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As they prepare for a battle over school vouchers during the next legislative session, a liberal advocacy group is calling attention to a program that few thought was under immediate threat in Texas: High school football.

In a video called “Will Our Friday Night Lights Go Out,” released today — which features actors Aaron Spivey-Sorrells and Jonathan Palafox from the television show Friday Night Lights — Progress Texas PAC urges Texans to fight school voucher programs.

School voucher programs, they argue in the video, could drain as much as $1 billion from local school district funding. With less funding, schools may be forced to end athletic programs or to demand that parents pay to keep them running. That, they say, all means less opportunity for students, particularly those from poor families.

“This is part of a larger campaign for public education,” said Glenn Smith, a director of Progress Texas, “but we found the danger to public sports is very real. It hadn’t been talked about much in the voucher and charter school debate.”

The video specifically targets state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who has championed creating a system that allows families to use public money for private school tuition. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst last week appointed Patrick to lead the Senate Education meeting.

At a hearing of that committee in August, national groups testified that similar programs in Florida and Indiana have improved accountability while saving the state money.

Matthew Ladner, a senior policy advisor at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, told lawmakers that with school choice, “parents can pick up and leave” if they feel their children aren’t being adequately served.

“This is the year to do it, in my view,” Patrick said regarding vouchers in an interview reported by the Houston Chronicle in August. “That issue will do more to impact the future of Texas and the quality of education than anything else we could do.”

The expense of public high school football programs has long been debated — from the release of Buzz Bissinger’s book Friday Night Lights in 1990 to Allen High School’s $60 million football stadium near Dallas, finished this year.

Football has already been halted at Premont Independent School District, where in January the district cut sports programs to keep the district afloat. “I couldn’t let the district go down to save a particular program,” superintendent Ernest Singleton told the Tribune at the time.

Smith, director of the PAC, said the threat to sports programs, and football in particular, may sway conservative Texans who would otherwise support voucher and charter school programs during the upcoming session.

“What’s lost in this debate is just how integral public schools are to our social lives in Texas,” he said. “There’s nothing more symbolic than the love of the old Friday night lights.”

MAURICE CHAMMAH interns for The Texas Tribune where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.


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6 thoughts on “PAC: High school football imperiled by vouchers

  1. Texas has been adding a population the size of Nebraska every two and a half years, which translates to about 80,000 new public school students a year.

    Despite all of this, we are to believe that Texas public education is so fragile that a bit of competition will send the whole thing south and drag football with it?

    Either the creators of this video are terribly unsophisticated, or alternatively that they think the people of Texas are incredibly gullible.

  2. This is laughable. Football funding would be very near the last thing touched in most instances. There would be serious consideration to dropping math at many districts before they touched football.

  3. Don’t worry about these scare tactics. High School football will not be leaving Texas because of vouchers. I’m never surprised at the scare tactics some people will use to avoid fair competition.

  4. As a former teacher this sort of nonsense saddens me. In our educational race to the bottom, football will be our lifeline? Our governor recently informed us that 40% of our college students will graduate in four years and we have public universities in Texas that graduate less than 20% of their students. Public education in Texas is about interest groups feeding at the rich trough of educational funding. This is not to say that there aren’t a great many fine, dedicated educators in Texas who are bound to a system that has neither their students’ nor their best interests in mind. As the author of this article stated, Florida has a public school voucher program and the last time I checked, football is alive and well in Florida. When the parents of Texas take education seriously and demand that our legislature end the cronyism, fraud, waste and insanity that builds $60 million dollar high school sports stadiums and allows parents to choose the best educational choice for their children, then we will see a drop in illiteracy an increase in graduation rates and a boon to Texas employers. And just maybe, football might still be played on Friday night.

  5. The thing I don’t understand about the voucher system is what private school is going to let an under achieving, socio-economic disadvantaged, disciple problem student enroll in their private school with a voucher.
    Also I am not sure if anyone noticed or not but the Texas school districts with the really nice stadiums such as Allen, Southlake, Highland Park…, not only have great athletic programs but just as good if not better academic programs.

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