Sen. Dan Patrick Named Senate Education Chair, Re-dedicates Himself to Private School Vouchers

Conservative Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) probably wasn't expecting broad accolades from the education community when he was named chair of the Senate Education Committee on Thursday, and the quick negative reaction from mainline education groups did not disappoint.

The dean of Harris County conservatives will replace Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano), who decided not seek another term. Patrick, who made no secret of his desire to chair the committee, made no secret of his desire to pursue private school vouchers this session. Nothing raises the hackles faster among teacher groups.

"The Texas State Teachers Association strongly opposes diverting tax dollars to a voucher scheme designed, not to improve educational opportunities, but to enrich private school operators," TSTA snipped in its statement on Patrick's appointment. "It is unfortunate that the chairman-apparent of the Senate Education Committee would making a priority of siphoning tax dollars into another privatization scheme. The Legislature, instead, should make a priority of restoring the $5.4 billion that was cut from public schools last session, restoring the 25,000 lost (so far) school jobs and reducing the size of thousands of overcrowded classrooms."

No love lost that, sentiments echoed by the Texas chapter of the American Federation. The Texas Charter School Association, which has found a friend in Patrick, was a bit warmer to the incoming chair.

"We were heartened to see Sen. Patrick announced as the new chairman of the Senate Education Committee," said David Dunn, executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association. "Dan Patrick has been a champion for parents and students for years, and Texas charter schools can look forward to a busy, productive session with continued strong Senate education leadership in place."

It's not a dozen roses and a box of chocolates, but it will probably do for Patrick, who is probably happier in the driver's seat than riding shotgun.

Meanwhile, groups that do support private school vouchers having been circling the Capitol since Patrick's comments and the interim committee meeting on school choice. That includes the Torah Day School and the Texas Catholic Conference. This morning, the Catholic Conference of Texas and the Texas Association of Non-Public Schools hosted an information session on school choice options.

The argument, front and center, will be that vouchers save public schools money because private schools can operate at a fraction of the cost of public schools. In Florida, those savings are claimed to be around $7,000 a child for the 50,000 low-income children enrolled in a choice scholarship program.

Peter Hanley of the American Center for School Choice, who addressed the group this morning, said 2011 was a landmark year for the creation of school choice programs. Seven programs were added that year, bringing the total number to 14 school choice and 16 scholarship voucher programs across the country. Another three states appear poised to pass bills in the upcoming session, even without Texas on the list, he said.

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