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Simpson tells Longview ISD trustees he doesn't support school vouchers

By Christina Lane
Nov. 13, 2012 at 10 p.m.

Longview's state lawmaker said Tuesday that he is not in favor of a voucher system for public schools.

Republican Rep. David Simpson was questioned repeatedly by Longview school board members about his stance on a voucher system that could pull students from public schools and see them in private institutions.

Trustee Troy Simmons was the most pointed in his questioning during Monday night's meeting.

"Would you and the group (of newly-elected legislators) publicly state that you aren't in favor of vouchers and privatizing public education?" Simmons asked.

"I'm opposed to vouchers," Simpson said to the school board for about the third time Monday night. "I'm in favor of public money going to public purposes."

Vouchers are expected to be a key issue before state legislators during the 83rd legislative session that starts in January.

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who is the new chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has been a longtime proponent of vouchers.

A state-funded voucher system would mean that the state would give money - likely in the form of a grant - to families to send their children to private schools instead of placing them in public schools.

However, because the public school system is funded on a formula based on average daily attendance rates, fewer students in public schools could mean a loss of revenue to the districts.

The state school finance system, as it stands, is "designed to under-fund schools," Simmons said. The finance issue has gone to trial, and educators do not expect it to be resolved until a year from now.

"We have a group of elected officials whose focus is doing everything but taking care of the students of this state," Simmons said.

Simmons said now that talk of vouchers is coming from the leader of the Senate's Education Committee, it's another step toward privatizing public education.

Simpson told the board he is not an advocate of that.

"I'm for freedom within the public school system," he said, adding that he wants to see school districts have more local control.

"They'll say we want to give you more local control and in that same breath, they'll legislate more unfunded mandates," Simmons said.

School districts in the state spend 47 days each year on state-mandated testing. Simpson said the state has increasingly implemented regulations and more unfunded mandates to schools without changing its funding formula. He'd like to see those unfunded mandates go away or at least decrease.

Simpson said if a voucher system is approved, it will only mean - in time - more regulations.

"I'd rather have freedom than regulations," Simpson said.

"There's got to be somebody - an advocate for public education," Simmons said. "And, what frustrates me is there are too many people doing this who don't have kids in this game."

Simpson's two children are home-schooled. His wife, who teaches their children, attended the Peabody College of Education, which is part of Vanderbilt University.

"They may be concerned about that, but I'm one of the biggest advocates for public education," Simpson said Tuesday.

"I support everyone's freedom. I support our Constitution. Our Constitution says in Article 7 that the diffusion of knowledge is essential to the preservation of individual liberties. It says the Legislature shall make a suitable, proficient system of free public schools. I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, and I'm seeking to do that."

Simpson said he could support - though he is not advocating for it - a voucher system within the public school system itself that would, for example, allow a child from Longview ISD to transfer to Union Grove ISD. While out-of-district transfers are permitted at many schools in the area, such as Union Grove, oftentimes they come with a price that out-of-district families must pay.

The legislator also said he would be in favor of a temporary tax credit for those who are educating their children outside of the public school system - though he said he is not advocating that. Families who send their children to private schools not only pay a fee to attend the private school, but also pay taxes to the local public school district in which they live.

"I think the biggest problem in education today is we don't have enough freedom," Simpson said. "Freedom doesn't ensure success, but it does allow for alteration when you make a mistake. When you make most rules from Austin, it's very difficult to change that."

State Sen. Kevin Eltife and state Rep. Bryan Hughes did not return multiple phone calls Tuesday seeking comment on the voucher system.



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