UT students support public schools with hashtag

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Several UT students posted the hashtag #ProudProductOfPublicSchools last week to show support for the Texas public school system, which faces potential changes in funding.

The hashtag, which began circulating after Betsy DeVos’ nomination for U.S. Secretary of Education, represents opposition to a school choice policy in Texas for many UT students who posted it on social media platforms.

The idea of school choice allows families to decide if they prefer sending their child to a private school through financial assistance programs such as vouchers, financed by taxpayers. While Texas currently does not have any educational choice programs, Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, authored a bill this session that establishes assistance and scholarship programs for families of students to pay for an education outside of the public school system.

Christina Breitbeil, Plan II and English senior, said she used this hashtag to commemorate her experience of attending public schools. Breitbeil said she is opposed to school choice.

“To me, (the hashtag) means that I am proud of what my academic career has allowed me to accomplish, and that I attribute that to the education I received from public schools,” Breitbeil said. “Without my education, which I am proud to say was primarily public, I would not be where I am now.”

According to Ballotpedia, supporters of school choice programs argue these options will expand opportunities for students rather than restrict them to attend the public school they’re zoned for. However, opponents argue these programs damage the public school system by diverting their funds.   

Claire Hardwick, theatre and radio-television-film sophomore, said she posted the hashtag to show her support for public schools and disagreement with school choice. Hardwick said she believes informing others through social media is a good starting point for change.

“When things like this happen, people say ‘oh, what is a hashtag gonna do to solve this problem or solve this nomination,’ but I think this is a really great example of a good first step and a good step of awareness,” Hardwick said.

More than half of the U.S. provides school choice programs to families, according to EdChoice, an education reform organization. 30 states and Washington D.C. currently offer at least one of the various program options.  

During his State of the State address on Jan. 31, Gov. Greg Abbott said he wants to provide students with the best education possible by allowing parents to choose a school that best fits the needs of their children.  

“When it comes to education, we need to remember that one size doesn’t fit all,” Abbott said during his speech. “Parents, not government, are best positioned to make decisions about their child’s education. Parents should be empowered to choose the school that’s best for their child.”

Several attempts to pass legislation regarding school choice in 2013 did not succeed, but Abbott expressed his support of school choice during a rally last month and said he is prepared to sign a bill if it arrives at his desk.

Taylor’s Senate Bill 3 was referred to the Senate Committee on Education two weeks ago, but has not been voted on yet.