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'If we divide our children that way, then we will divide our future' | Temple ISD Superintendent speaks on 'school choice' policy proposed by governor

The program reportedly allows parents to send their kids to schools outside of the state's public education through an education savings account or school voucher.

TEMPLE, Texas — Temple ISD Superintendent Bobby Ott is weighing in on Gov. Greg Abbott's push for a new policy "school choice," saying Abbott left parents with a "false narrative" during his Feb. 20 visit to the city.

"I think a lot of parents are walking around believing a false narrative that they truly do have a choice," Ott said. "The choice resides in the selective admissions process of the private school."

Per Abbott, he said he plans to give parents state money to send their kids to schools outside of the state's public education system through education savings accounts, similar to a school voucher.

Central Texans still have many questions about the policy and what it means for the future of public schools. Ott says after the governor left last week, he had multiple phone calls, emails and texts messages. Parents expressed concern over whether or not the voucher will cover the entire tuition amount. The answer is no. 

He says parents might think they have a choice, but they really don't.

Ott additionally added how the proposed plan could create segregation.

"If we're competing with entities and using tax dollars, to subsidize entities that can pick and choose, well, then eventually you're going to set up a mass societal divide," Ott said. "If we divide our children that way, then we will divide our future."

There's many concerns, one of those being a lack of financial reporting and transparency, he said.

"You will not know where this money's going," Ott said. "A parent can use the money to do whatever they want. At least through public schools, there is an agency that oversees public schools, and that's the Texas Education Agency."

Along with this, the selective admissions process and the special services that aren't provided in private schools is another top concern, he said.

"A lot of non-public schools are not known for taking students from low income or with disabilities or English language learner needs because they're not required to provide the same services public schools are," Ott said.

The superintendent recognizes public schools aren't perfect but notes the plan will not fix much. 

"There are some issues across the state that I do believe need to be corrected and fixed," Ott said. "I don't think vouchers are the solution, I think, auditing school districts or drawing up rules or regulations, sanctions, I think that becomes better solution."

He encourages parents to look into success rates of other schools that have done this. 

"If you take Arizona for example, they've had a school choice programs since 2011," Ott said. "Eighty percent of the people that have participated, they were already in their kids were already in private schools. If you look at states like New Hampshire, only 11% took advantage of it. There's states all over the country that whenever they've tried this, it has not proven effective."

The school choice policy is a legislative priority for Abbott.

"When you're in a leadership position, you need to lead," Ott said. "If anybody in public schools treated kids or campuses, the way that this policy is, I don't think that's leadership."

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