Glennda Hardin drove an hour from Temple to the state Capitol with her speech folded neatly in her handbag before sunrise. She said 73-year-old retired teacher Hardin had never done anything like this. She decided to speak out after hearing Republican legislators’ education plans.
That money—meant for public schools like the ones she taught at for three decades—paying for private school tuition. “I really believe our schools’ future is at stake,” Hardin said. In the back of a committee room Wednesday, her hands trembled as she clutched the paper, waiting to testify. Minutes turned into hours, and one hour turned into the next.
The Parental Bill of Rights
Hardin was one of hundreds of educators, parents, school officials, and activists who spoke out against a package of bills that would fundamentally change the state’s education system in response to conservative concerns about how public schools address racism, history, and LGBTQ inclusion.
Senate Bill 8, dubbed The Texas Parental Bill of Rights by its GOP authors, would give parents who want to home-school or send their kids to private school $8,000 a year. Public school parents would have more control over what their kids learned and what books they could read.
The 53-page bill also prohibits public schools from teaching or doing activities “regarding sexual orientation or gender identity” at all grade levels, like Florida did last year. Gov. Greg Abbott strongly supports the legislative package to protect Texas public school children from a “woke agenda.”
Perla Muñoz Hopkins, a mother who leads the Texas chapter of Moms for America, said she believes conservative Christian children and parents are being “persecuted” in public schools. “Parents are desperate for options to have our inalienable rights honored,” she said. However, some speakers claimed the bill would fund private Christian schools and suppress LGBTQ students and educators.
Leander, an Austin suburb where parents have packed meetings to complain about sexually explicit library books, public school board member Anna Smith attended the legislative hearing wearing a pride flag. Smith worries that political attacks on local schools are being used to steal public school funding after two years.
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“This bill will take Texas public education in one of two directions,” she said. “I’m worried.”
“My school. Child. Choice.” A man wrote on his white T-shirt: “Don’t take my tax dollars to pay for your kid’s private school.” Vera Billingsley, wearing a red blazer over a “Parents Matter” T-shirt, told legislators she supports their plans and hopes they go further: Parents should be given money for private Christian academies, and the same biblical values that guide their curricula should be mandated in public schools.
“We’re forgetting our moral moorings,” said Billingsley, who’s running for a seat on the Northside Independent School District board of trustees in San Antonio. “If they would bring the Proverbs every day into the school like I did with my kids at home, they would be fine.”
Republican Sen. Angela Paxton’s constitutional amendment would allow parents “to direct the education” of their children, including sending them to religious schools. Her husband, Attorney General Ken Paxton, argued on Monday that the Texas Constitution allows government funding for private religious schools.
Bangar Reddy Aaloori tweeted that he supports the parental bill of rights! Transparency, Quality, and Respect Choices are non-negotiable for our children’s future. You can see below:
Support parental bill of rights! Transparency, Quality, Respect and Choice, these are non-negotiable for the future of our children! We support Governor Greg Abbott for securing the future of Texas. pic.twitter.com/6FJFOGvNRj
— Bangar Reddy Aaloori (@BangarReddy) March 22, 2023
The Rev. Holly Bandel, a pastor at First United Methodist Church in Dallas, worries that legislators are chipping away at the separation of church and state at a time when more Americans are openly embracing Christian nationalism—the belief that America was founded as a Christian nation and that government policy should be guided by biblical values. Pastors for Texas Children, a group of 1,000 pastors and faith leaders who support public school equity, includes Bandel.
“An essential part of providing equity in our nation is that we are not imposing beliefs on people,” Bandel said.
An unusual coalition opposed the bill: Democrats who oppose private school vouchers ideologically, small-town Republicans who worry the plan would gut public school funding in rural districts, and conservative Christian home-school parents who would benefit financially but fear government money would restrict their freedom to educate their children.
At the hearing, Republican Sen. Brandon Creighton, the Education Committee chairman, said legislators would fully support public schools by giving teachers raises and new job protections in a separate bill while giving parents more options. Hardin, the retired teacher who was still waiting to testify eight hours into the hearing, disagrees.
“This isn’t about helping public schools,” she said. “It’s a program to give a break to affluent parents who want to send their children to private Christian schools. Period.”
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