The Woodlands, March 8 – The Woodlands Republican Women, under the leadership of President Pat Truesdale and Programs Vice President Layne Carroll, hosted a debate on school choice between Kingwood Tea Party President Robin Lennon, who spoke in favor of school choice, and Montgomery County Tea Party board of directors member Ginger Russell, who spoke against school choice. The debate had an interesting direction, because both Lennon and Russell have supported home-schooling of children.
Lennon argued that free-market competition works effectively to increase the quality of education, so Texas should have options that make home-schooling, charter schools, private schools, and other alternatives to public education available to children and their families throughout Texas. Russell argued that federal and state regulation – what she called “coerced conformity” – would pose serious dangers to children’s education and necessitate a position against school choice options.
In addition to serving as President of the Kingwood Tea Party, Lennon and her husband home-schooled their children from second grade through high school. She began her remarks by stating emphatically, “I believe every Texas child should have the same opportunity to achieve the American dream.” Lennon noted that approximately 816,000 children in Texas are in failing public schools out of the total 5.2 million children. She argued that inner city children are particularly likely to suffer in schools that fail to provide basic education.
Lennon said, “Free markets allow children to rise out of poverty. Even in China we’ve witnessed children enjoying the benefits of free markets to bring hundreds of millions of children out of terrible conditions.” She criticized Texas public school education as a “top down monopoly that harms our children’s education. We’ve understood the dangers of socialism and top-down government in other fields of endeavor. Even the pilgrims experimented with a socialistic society at the beginning of America and moved away from that experiment when it failed.”
The Kingwood Tea Party leader observed that “the best teachers are from the free market” where they must compete for jobs. She asked the audience to help her and Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick make “students the best they can be.”
Russell has been a long time activist against federal over-regulation of education. She is currently serving as the GOP Precinct #74 Chair in Montgomery County. She is also the Director of Texans for Education Freedom. Russell has also home-schooled her children.
Russell observed that “our schools are set up to fail.” Russell has fought against the bureaucracy in education, particularly at the state and local levels, in recent years. She said, “technology in our schools is more geared to learn about our children and form databases on them than existing to help children learn.”
Russell explained that the state and federal education bureaucracies exist to control child and family development through government regulation rather than to ensure quality education. Russell argued, “No fully funded school voucher or choice system in the world can improve education if the Federal Department of Education controls the classroom. Coerced conformity kills school choice.”
Russell disagrees that school choice and parental control of education could exist if the state provides funds to parents either to home-school their children or send them to private institutions. In response to a question, Russell stated that it would be “irresponsible” to make school funds available to home-schooling parents or private institutions without regulations. As a result, Russell opposes school choice, particularly as some legislators in the 85th Texas Legislature are proposing it. Russell was particularly critical of Texas Senate Bill 3 which would establish and education savings account program and provide tax credits and educational assistance programs for lower-income families. “With state funds will come state accountability,” Russell told the crowd.
Lennon and Russell both made excellent points. Lennon was right on the mark that free markets work just as effectively for education as they do for other competitive fields. Fearing over-regulation, if state fund distribution to home-schooling parents or to private schools occurs, is probably justified if past grant programs are the historical examples. With federal distribution of health care funds to states and with federal allocations of highway funds, there have always been extensive regulatory schemes with which state governments and private contractors must comply.
Just as federal health care reform will likely not enjoy much success with a bludgeon as the tool of reform, similarly the crafters of Texas’ education system should examine and craft these issues in a manner that will maximize the ability of families and private communities to help children make the American dream a reality for one and all.
The community should commend President Truesdale and the entire leadership and membership of the Woodlands Republican Women for presenting this excellent program.