Dan Patrick Can’t math

by | Mar 13, 2023 | Texas Legislature

Last week, the Signal reported on comments recently made by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick to a gathering of business community types in which the Lite Guv talked about his desire to pass a “parental rights” bill in Texas before bizarrely claiming that he would also advocate for a “teachers’ rights” bill to get “thugs out the classroom.”

While Patrick hasn’t clarified who the thugs in question are, he did take some time this weekend to roll out his parental rights agenda, and boy, it’s a doozy.

The heart of the legislation is a renewed push for school vouchers, with Patrick proposing that the state give families enrolling in private or parochial schools $8,000 per student, per year to cover tuition and other related expenses. 

Public education advocates were immediately alarmed by the $8,000 figure. Texas ranks near the bottom of national rankings of per-student funding, with the basic allotment totaling around $6,160 per student. 

No, you don’t have that wrong. Patrick is proposing establishing “education savings accounts,” for families to fund private education options, while also proposing that students heading to private schools receive nearly $2,000 more per year than the state currently sends to public schools.

It’s a radical plan that would disproportionately punish rural schools in particular, where per-student funding and teacher pay have reached unspeakably low levels. Patrick’s plans to obliterate Texas public education with voucher programs have been met with resistance from rural elected officials in the past, which led Patrick to carve out smaller school districts and continue to provide funding to those districts for students that opt for private schools for a period of two years.

It could also have a disastrous impact on the larger, urban areas of the state, which are home to the majority of the private schools in Texas. Large numbers of students leaving those school districts for private education will create an incredible cash crunch for school districts already struggling to balance their books.

The two-year figure is a hard pill for many administrators in small school districts to swallow and will rob school district coffers of vital funds once that window closes.

It should be surprising that Patrick has bungled the math on his pet project so badly. The Lieutenant Governor has in many ways been the public face of the anti-education movement in Texas, leading calls for everything from banning books to assigning school guards to do gender checks on students using restrooms as part of his ill-fated bathroom bill. 

Patrick’s bill, named Senate Bill 8 (not to be confused with last session’s SB 8, which effectively banned abortion in Texas), would also ban education on gender or sexual orientation until students reached a point that the material was deemed “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate.” It is in many ways a clone of a recent set of bills being pushed in Florida by that state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, who is a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

The law would create “parent portals,” that allow parents to review instructional materials and parents can exempt their children from any instruction on gender and sexual orientation.

For decades, advocates for vouchers have based their support largely on empowering families to place their children in educational environments that match their religious or cultural values on topics like sex and gender, and parents have always had the ability to opt their children out of sexual education classes. 

The lack of access to comprehensive sexual education in Texas has created its own crisis, though one that isn’t often mentioned in the halls of the Texas Legislature. From 2014-2020 (the last year for which data is available), Texas consistently ranked in the top 10 states for teen birth rates, ranking as high as fourth in the nation in 2014, 2015, and 2016.

While Texas Republicans love to talk a good game about protecting Texas children, they have consistently pushed policies that make it nearly impossible for young Texans to make safe, informed decisions about their sexual health or family planning goals. 

While there isn’t much in this “parental rights” bill that will actually protect Texas students, the Texas GOP has also been hard at work killing bills that would make child marriage illegal in Texas, while other Texas Republicans have begun to lament that it might be time to loosen child labor laws in Texas, similar to a successful effort in Arkansas.

For a party that claims to be pro-life, they are certainly doing everything they can to make Texas a dangerous place to be a kid.

Senior Advisor | + posts

Joe brings over a decade of experience as a political operative and creative strategist to Texas Signal, where he serves as our Senior Advisor and does everything from writing a regular column, Musings, to mentoring our staff and freelancers. Joe was campaign manager for Lina Hidalgo's historic 2018 victory for Harris County Judge and is a passionate sneakerhead.

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