Governor Greg Abbott’s push for a school voucher system (which he calls an Education Savings Account) has been blasted by critics for being a taxpayer-funded push to enrich Christian schools. At some recent stops on his Parent Empowerment Tour, those worries seem very well-founded.
“We exist to train, educate, and equip students to impact the world for Jesus,” said Jeff McMaster, Headmaster at Brazos Christian School where the event was held on Tuesday. “So, if you dissect that, what that really says is that we are involved with and interested in pursuing a program of academic rigor in a context of relationship and small community, but intentionally in an environment where we get to incorporate a Christ-centered worldview and perspective on everything that we do.”
Abbott’s voucher program would allow parents to use $10,000 worth of public funds for tuition at a private institution. In places with such programs, the overwhelming majority of vouchers go to fund pricey Christian schools. In Ohio, 80 percent of vouchers go to Christian schools.
One parent spoke on stage at the event affirming her support for a school like Brazos that incorporates daily prayer, Bible lessons, and teachers who share their own testimonies of faith. She said that this armed children for a “dark and confusing world.”
Abbott took the stage as the main act, beginning by lauding his accomplishments raising public teacher salaries and increasing funding. However, he quickly turned the speech into a culture war.
“We will not teach our students to hate the United States of America,” said Abbot. “Parents are angry about experiences they’ve had in school. Some parents remain angry that their children were forced to wear a mask to school against the parents’ desires and against the child’s desires… Parents are angry about the woke agenda that’s being forced on their children in schools. Schools should not be pushing a woke agenda on our children. Our schools are for education, not indoctrination.”
Abbott’s anger about indoctrination seems hypocritical speaking from the stage of a school that openly forces students to participate in daily religious training. It is also worth mentioning that Abbott’s antipathy for “woke” agendas was spoken in a forum where not a single person who was not white, heterosexual, or cisgender was a programmed guest.
The Republican push for school choice has unmistakable white supremacist and anti-LGBT overtones. Much of the curriculum that has been challenged, including library books, involves teaching books on Black history and experiences by Black authors like Frederick Joseph, opposing the inclusion of queer and trans students in activities, and the eradication of lessons involving the labor movement.
As much as Abbott touts his support of public schools, there is no realistic way that his voucher program will not negatively impact them financially, especially in rural Texas where there are fewer private schools. Texas school funding depends on an attendance-based model where the number of children in the school dictates how much money they get. Even a loss of just 10 students school wide can cost a teacher a job.