The hot topic of school choice in Texas was discussed at the March 2 meeting of the Kingwood Tea Party.
The stated topic for the evening was the upcoming Humble ISD board election, but the announcement by State Rep. Dan Huberty the day before that school choice was a dead issue in the Texas House prompted Tea Party President Robin Lennon to comment, particularly since Lennon was identified March 2 in a Texas Tribune (not affiliated with the Tribune Newspapers) article (texastribune.org/2017/03/02/push-back-huberty-school-choice-vote/) as the instigator of a motion to censure Huberty, chair of the Texas House Education committee, for his position.
The Texas Tribune wrote, “School choice activists are lobbying the Republican Party of Texas to “censure” a top House lawmaker’s opposition to granting Texas families subsidies to fund private school tuition for their kids. A draft resolution submitted to the State Republican Executive Committee (SREC) on Thursday morning criticizes House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, for that position — and for remarks he made at a Texas Tribune event on Tuesday. In those remarks, Huberty said he thought school choice legislation being proposed in the Senate would go nowhere this legislative session, despite being a top priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. The proposed SREC resolution, lodged by the Kingwood Tea Party in Huberty’s district, suggests Huberty’s position on school choice is “antithetical” to views expressed by the leadership of the Republican Party and that his role as education chairman gives him the power to prevent the legislation from ever being voted on in the House. ”
The Kingwood Tea Party is a strong advocate for school choice, Lennon said.
“Just because I am pro-school choice doesn’t mean I’m against public schools. I’m pro-education. I just think that even the best public school system cannot meet the needs of every student, and parents should have that choice.”
Lennon expressed great disappointment about Huberty’s comments the day before, vowing to block any school choice bill from getting a hearing in the House Education Committee. She said that school choice is one of five legislative priorities of the GOP; 93 percent of delegates voted for school choice at the Republican Party of Texas 2016 convention. Lennon also said that in 2012, 87 percent of Harris County Republicans, including Huberty’s own constituents in District 127, favored a school choice resolution. Huberty’s pronouncement was made the same week that President Donald Trump urged Congress to pass education legislation that funds school choice for low-income students nationwide.
Thursday morning, Lennon said she sent a resolution asking the SREC to censure Huberty for single-handedly denying school choice without a hearing. “I want to see that bill make it out onto the floor where it can be debated furiously, and the Legislature can decide if it’s best for Texas. In my view, that is what our representative’s duty is.” The Texas Tribune reported that another group, the conservative-leaning public interest litigation firm, Justice Foundation, called for Huberty to resign his chairmanship because he was placing legislator interests above the people of Texas.
Huberty’s anti-school choice stance is well known, and he has been criticized by many pro-school choice advocates as succumbing to the education establishment in Texas, comprised of superintendents and teachers unions. On the other hand, proponents of public schools support Huberty, himself a former Humble ISD trustee. For example, he was honored two weeks ago by the Fast Growth School Coalition, a group that lobbies for rapid development and spending on building new public schools statewide. Dr. Guy Sconzo, the former superintendent of Humble ISD, is now the executive director of Fast Growth. Rather than school choice, Huberty wants the Senate to provide additional funding for public education, and many of his supporters say that public school finance reform must occur before funding would even be available for school choice.
The Humble ISD board has addressed the issue on previous occasions, with board members stating the board is opposed to any funding for charter schools unless adequate funding is also provided to traditional public schools, and that the board also opposes any state voucher plan that diverts public tax dollars to private entities or homeschool students with little or no academic or financial accountability to the state, taxpayers, or local communities. Board member Keith Lapeze had earlier described Huberty’s role as House chair as “a very powerful position” and reminded everyone that it helps Humble ISD “to have a friend (in Huberty)” in what is shaping up to be a “very tough legislative session.”
At the Tea Party meeting, Lapeze blamed the media for community resentments and misunderstandings. Without naming The Tribune, Lapeze cryptically referred to a previously published article about community speculation over a candidate who had withdrawn from the trustee race. “I do want to say this about this election coming up. We (board members) are volunteers; we put ourselves out there because we want to help and do the right thing. I have no aspirations for higher office, although several of our board members have, so one of the things that really makes me extraordinarily angry is when people accuse us of things, in particular of breaking laws. I really hope this election is run cleanly and fairly and we talk about issues instead of about people.”
The article reported on community speculation as to whether an agreement had been reached between Conrad and her opponent, Deborah Yocham, to support Yocham as a replacement to the expected resignation of board member Heath Rushing, who has received a job promotion to another area in Houston. Conrad vehemently denies any discussion of such an agreement.
Lapeze then inferred that media coverage had prompted a disturbing incident after Huberty’s pronouncement to kill the school choice bill.
“Dan Huberty is one of my best friends in the world. Dan has been receiving death threats since [the story came out] Tuesday, and so long story short, we need to become more civil, and I hope this race shows how civil our community can be.”
Huberty confirmed later that some protesters appeared March 2 in front of his home.
“Several different groups gathered at my home, rang my doorbell and placed signage in the property near my house. We called law enforcement who sent officers there. My children came home from school to see uniformed officers there, who also accompanied them to after-school activities. The Texas Department of Public Safety told me they investigated a “credible threat” and were sending officers to my house,” Huberty said.
Not understanding that Lapeze’s outcry was aimed at The Tribune about the Conrad story, his statements prompted Lennon to reassure the Tea Party meeting crowd that although she had moved to censure Huberty, she did not make death threats.
Lennon reiterated why she believes school choice is so important: “We have 900,000 children in failing schools across Texas. They’re all entitled to the American dream, but they need school choice to achieve it.”