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POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE Vouchers Beached BEST LAID PLANS They gathered outside the Capitol wearing T-shirts that read, “EducaciOn Igual para Todos!” and “Let Parents Choose!” If everything had gone as planned, the provoucher rally on Saturday, May 15 might have come at a critical time for Texas schools. Support for public school vouchers is shaky at the Capitol and across the state. Fiftyeight percent of Texans don’t like the idea of taxpayer money going to private schools, according to the latest Scripps-Howard Texas Poll, and many legislators don’t either. But Governor Rick Perry has come out strongly in support, especially since returning from a “working weekend” in the Bahamas with provoucher campaign donorJames Leininger. Key members of the House and Senate should have been in conference committee that Saturday, putting the finishing touches on a school finance plan for the special session Perry had called. It was in conference committee, insiders agreeat the last minute and out of the public eyethat vouchers stood the best chance of being inserted in the House’s omnibus school finance bill. The crowd of nearly 2,000 concerned Hispanic parents thronging the steps outside might have tipped the balance. But since the special session had been officially declared all-but-dead just the day before, those parents were left talking mainly to themselves. They were bused in from Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio by Hispanic CREO, a national nonprofit organization that promotes vouchers as the solution for minority kids marginalized by their public schools. \(CREO stands for Council on Reform and Educational “We are only asking that the state allow Hispanic children the same educational options, and a greater chance at success, that other Texans enjoy,” Enrique Granados, a Dallas field organizer for CREO, told the crowd. Granados and his wife work overtime to pay for their 5-year-old son’s private education. They decided not to send their son to public school after watching TV news reports about school violence and high minority dropout rates. Critics of the voucher movement say CREO functions as a public relations front for rich, white, pro-voucher conservatives. By framing vouchers as the best hope for poor kids, supporters may hope to bring a once-fringe issue into the mainstream. “It’s a motherhood and apple pie thing,” says Maria Robledo Montecel, executive director of the Intercultural Development Research Association, which has studied minority schooling in Texas for 30 years. “This is the same group of people that has always supported vouchers. These are not people who have a history of working with and being concerned about minority communities!’ CREO’s financial supporters include ultraconservative funders like the Walton Family Foundation, the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, and Leininger’s voucher-pushing creation, Children First America. \(Children First America joined forces with two other pro-voucher groups on May 17 to become the the Texas businessman who launched Hispanic CREO in 2003 and now chairs CREO’s board, is a long-time Leininger associate. Aguirre serves on the board of the Alliance for School Choice, and has also done duty on many of Leininger’s pro-voucher state PACs. Most recently, Aguirre served as director of Texans for Educational Excellence, which funded a pro-voucher lobbying campaign during the school finance special session, and director of the All Children Matter PAC, which funneled money to a few key minority Democratic house members during the last election. Regardless of how CREO is funded, there’s no doubt that the parents at the Capitol were concerned about their children’s futures. To them, vouchers offer an immediate answer to an urgent problem. But other minority advocates, like Robledo Montecel, say vouchers won’t solve any problems. “It’s a false promise,” says Robledo Montecel. “It’s outrageous to be talking about it while we are looking for money to fund the rest of the schools. If neighborhood schools are not what we want them to be, the parents I know want to fight to make them better.” CASTLES IN THE SAND Many Texans may not know it, but they live in the only coastal state in the nation that outlaws private beaches. In 1959, the Lege passed a progressive bit of legislation known as the Open Beaches Act. It mandates that the state’s gulf shore will always and forever belong to the people of Texas. At least, in theory. In practice, it hasn’t worked so well. For years, successive state land commissioners have failed to enforce the Open Beaches Act, and a wave of homeowners and developers have steadily washed away the public’s right to play in the sand. The problem is especially acute in Galveston, where seaside homeowners have long been allowed to restrict coastal access and create de facto private beaches for themselves. Now a group of fishermen and beach-goers has filed a lawsuit in hopes of turning the tide. In the past 25 years, 17 miles of beach on Galveston Island has been closed to cars and trucks. All that remains for those who rely on vehicles to access the beach, like fishermen and the physically disabled, is 3.2 miles of beach on the far west tip of the island, known by those who use it as “the last four miles!’ Even that small sliver of sand is at risk. The city’s most recent beach access plan, which it must submit by law to Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson for certification, would halt most vehicular traffic on the “last four miles!’ So in March, a coalition of fishermen and beach regulars known as Texas Open Beach City of Galveston, Galveston County, and TOBA’s suit aims to block the current beach access plan, contending that it violates the Open Beaches Act. The two sides went before Travis County District Judge Paul Davis for an initial hearing in the case on April 22 in Austin. At the hearing, attorneys for two developersCentex Homes and San Luis Developmentjoined the defense team of state and local attorneys. The developers have asked to be included in the beach lawsuit, saying that TOBA’s demands 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 6/4/04