Voucher Lobby Targets Texas Public Schools

by Dan Quinn

Update: The voucher amendment was authored by state Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, and will be offered as part of Senate Bill 1811. The text of the amendment can be found here.

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We have just learned that voucher advocates plan to seek a vote in the Texas House of Representatives tomorrow (Wednesday, May 18) on a truly radical scheme to take billions of taxpayer dollars from neighborhood public schools to subsidize tuition at private and religious schools across the state. This brazen assault on public education comes as Texas lawmakers are already considering billions of dollars in other cuts to the state’s budget for neighborhood schools.

It’s critical that supporters of public education move quickly to stop this reckless and irresponsible attack on the future of nearly 5 million Texas schoolchildren. Read on to find out more about this new development and how you can take action.

This afternoon we saw a proposed amendment to important fiscal legislation that would direct the state to give so-called “Taxpayer Savings” grants – vouchers – to families that send their children to private or religious schools. The money would come from tax dollars originally intended for public education – even if recipients of these vouchers had never set foot in a public school.

Backing the measure is a virtual “who’s who” of anti-public education activists, including the Texas Home School Coalition, Liberty Institute and Tea Party activists. They and their legislative allies are shamelessly claiming that this voucher scheme will save the state money. That’s absurd. The state would be on the hook for the costs of students transferring to private schools as well as students who weren’t even enrolled in public schools to begin with. Moreover, public school districts face costs — such as maintenance and debt — that aren’t determined solely by enrollment numbers. So supposed cost savings from students leaving public schools are exaggerated at best.

In short, this huge loss in funding — on top of deep and painful budget cuts already in the works — would be catastrophic for neighborhood public schools and the students who remain in those classrooms. Who will those students be? Likely low- and middle-income families that can’t afford to cover the gap between the value of a voucher and the actual cost of private school tuition. And how big a hit to public schools are we talking about? Analysts estimated that a proposed voucher scheme in 2005 that was limited to just eight urban school districts could have drained about $600 million from public schools. This new and unlimited voucher scheme could siphon tax dollars from public schools in every district  — rural, suburban and urban — across Texas. The numbers will add up fast.

Legislators in 2007 and 2009 voted overwhelmingly to bar spending any taxpayer dollars on vouchers for private and religious schools. But anti-public education forces regrouped after the November 2010 elections and now are moving to defund the very public schools that educate the vast majority of Texas kids. Even worse, this voucher scheme would send public tax dollars to private and religious schools that are unaccountable to taxpayers. In fact, the proposed amendment includes no standards or regulations at all for schools that take these publicly funded vouchers – it’s simply a tax-dollar giveaway.

Make no mistake — the future of public education in Texas is on the line. Call your representative in the Texas House and insist that he or she vote against this irresponsible voucher scheme. You can find the name of your representative and contact information here.

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