North Texans travel to Austin for school choice rally

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Thousands of charter school advocates rallied at the state capitol Wednesday in support of public school alternatives.

A busload of parents, teachers and students from North Texas made the early-morning trip to Austin for the Texas School Choice Rally.

The rally brought together charter school supporters with private, parochial and homeschool advocates – many wearing yellow scarfs in a show of solidarity.

The advocates are pressuring lawmakers to pass legislation in support of more non-traditional school funding in the form of vouchers and tax credits. A similar effort failed in 2017.

The group from North Texas said they were excited about the opportunity to speak with legislators and share their stories on how charter schools have made a positive impact on their kids’ lives.

“I think it’s pretty cool that they’re will to I guess talk to the students and kind of give insight to how Harmony interacts with other students and their career choices and everything,” said Ralph Berkeypiole, a Harmony Public Schools student.

One mom whose children also attend Harmony said she didn’t mind making the drive to show her support.

“I hope to gain more awareness. To me as a parent, the school has been a lifesaver. My son was bored at school. My daughter is dyslexic. So I’ve got two ranges of students and I don’t want my charter school to go away. So, therefore, I decided to get involved,” Teresa Cook said.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who is a school choice advocate, called it the most important issues facing future generations.

“I believe school choice is the civil rights issue of the 21st century. And every single child in the state of Texas deserves access to an excellent education,” Sen. Cruz said.

While the overall state funding for charter schools remains relatively small, it has increased dramatically over the past decade to about $2 billion.

Public school advocates worry that charter school funding siphons money away from school districts that are already facing tight budgets.

The public school supporters are also pressuring lawmakers this session to overhaul the state finance system and budget more money for public schools.

Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa joined Good Day Wednesday morning to talk about school choice and a controversial idea to partner with certain schools.

The proposal would allow private contractors to take over some public school campuses. The idea is a result of a relatively new state law that allows contractors, including non-profits, to operate the campuses.

They would get paid more per student than public schools do. But the concern is that the school board would lose oversight and control.

“We can partner with nonprofit, with a university, with a city entity to allow us to get charter revenue. We would get $1,800 per student more if we partnered with one of those entities. The board is considering a policy. Every individual application will have to come later but a policy is what’s under review right now,” Hinojosa said.

The largest teacher’s association in Dallas ISD opposes the idea out of concern that it could give unfair preference to some schools over others.

“Does the school board give up their rights to oversee and only just manage? There's so many questions that come to mind,” said Rena Honea with the Dallas Alliance AFT.

Dallas IDS board members were set to vote Thursday on adopting a policy to partner with private organizations, but the vote was postponed for more discussion.

Wednesday’s rally at the capitol was one of many across the country planned to coincide with National School Choice Week.