Epic Fail for Voucher ‘Expert’ in Texas School Finance Lawsuit

On Tuesday the lawsuit trial in Austin over how Texas finances its public schools featured one of the national leaders of the private school voucher movement. Testimony from Joseph Bast, the president and CEO of the pro-voucher Heartland Institute, should be instructive for Texas legislators preparing for battle over vouchers in the current session. That’s because the testimony revealed, for all to see, the intellectual and factual bankruptcy of the voucher movement. According to the San Antonio Express-News, Bast testified that a voucher scheme called “taxpayer savings grants” would, by golly, be just great for low-income families, public schools, teachers and the state. But when he was cross-examined, Bast essentially revealed that he doesn’t know what in the world he’s talking about:

[Bast] said the state saves $7,750 each time a child leaves the public system and, therefore, “the program actually benefits the public schools.”

He estimated annual savings at about $2 billion and said “mainstream economic thinking” predicts the resulting competition would drive up teacher pay by as much as $12,000 per year in “a metropolitan area like Houston.”

Questioned by Maribel Hernández Rivera, an attorney for one of the plaintiff groups represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Bast acknowledged he has not graduated from college and holds no degrees in economics, though he considers himself an economist.

He also said neither of two reports he co-authored, which were entered into evidence, have been peer-reviewed.

David Thompson, attorney for another group of school districts, later pointed out that the Legislative Budget Board concluded the taxpayer savings grant proposal would cost the state money in its first two years of operation.

“To your knowledge, no government entity in the state of Texas ever has agreed with your analysis of savings, is that correct?” Thompson asked.

“Apparently,” Bast replied.

Good heavens. Bast sounds like David Barton — a guy without a degree in history who fancies himself a historian even while countless real historians laugh at his absurd claims. Maybe they answered the same “How to be an expert!” ad in the back of some right-wing magazine.

Bast, by the way, was a witness in the trial for Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education, or TREE. TREE is led by former state Rep. Kent Grusendorf. Grusendorf lost his bid for re-election to the Legislature the year after his high-profile crusade to pass a private school voucher scheme crashed in flames on the floor of the Texas House in 2005.

You can read the full Express-News story here.


4 thoughts on “Epic Fail for Voucher ‘Expert’ in Texas School Finance Lawsuit

  1. If I have a dollar in my pocket, I can choose to buy four bars of soap on sale for a buck or two candy bars for 75 cents and one bar of soap. I choose the latter, so that makes me a professional economist.

    How about this:

    “I spend; therefore, I am.”

    Where do they get these people!!!!!!!

    1. What a great analysis of the religious right’s undermining of public education and its attempt to get public funds for religious indoctrination. Thanks.

  2. Readers should realize that Bast’s testimony is based on totally bogus assumptions. Senator Dan Patrick’s proposal is to allow private (i.e. sectarian Fundamentalist Christian) schools to be funded with public money “donated” by Texas companies to a state-administered private school scholarship fund, with the money ultimately going to private religious schools. In return, the companies would not have to pay property taxes on the amount they “donate,” that is, they would get tax credits. This scheme seems awfully complex and cumbersome because it is designed to (1) evade U.S. Constitutional First Amendment prohibitions, (2) evade Texas State Constitutional prohibitions, (3) it allows the proponents to describe the scheme as “tax credits” and “scholarships” rather than “vouchers,” and (4) it allows unscrupulous individuals such as Bast to blandly testify that the scheme will not take money away from public schools, instead “saving” the state money money in a way that “actually benefits the public schools.” But nothing could be further from the truth.

    In fact, the Patrick-Dewhurst-Perry scheme is a scam, a long con, cunningly designed to ultimately defund and undermine public education and give the Radical Religious Right what they have always wanted: the ability to have their property taxes pay for the religious school education of their children. Public school districts would immediately lose state money because of the loss of students to private schools since they are funded by a formula based on their student population. Eventually, this money would be removed from state funding. The state would immediately lose business tax money equal to the private school scholarships generated by the tax credits, and this would have to be replaced somehow. You can easily imagine that it will not be replaced in Texas by raising business taxes but rather by cutting public education funding. Just look at how this worked in 2011.

    But the true hidden purpose of the bill if allowed to become law is to establish the precedent of using state-generated public money to pay for private religious education. At first, the system to do this is cumbersome, complex, but legal in an ambiguous and slippery way because it appears the money is simply being transferred from private companies to private schools with the state merely acting as a bookkeeper. If they can get the public (and eventually, the courts) to buy into this system, the next version of the scheme will be a more direct route, with the money ultimately being appropriated directly by the state for religious, private, and public schools, a process that will eventually destroy public education in Texas, a long-sought goal of the radical and fundamentalist Right.

    I might point out that the ostensible purpose of this scheme is to provide “low-income” students in “failing” public school systems with a better education. In fact, it is the school districts, not the students, who are “low-income,” i.e. under-funded, and they are only labeled “failing” because testing statistics have been used to do this in arbitrary, politically-determined ways. Student academic achievement tests should be used to identify what a student needs to learn to reach a certain level of academic achievement or preparation for college, not to label a student, school, or district “failing” for political purposes. The “failing” label is a legal way to justify a private voucher program, so under-funded urban school districts are usually the ones targeted for vouchers. The highest and most-consistent correlation with low academic achievement is poverty.

    The idea that transferring students from a public to a private school will automatically improve their education is also questionable. Numerous rigorous scientific and scholarly studies now exist that document that private religious school education is no better and usually worse than a public school education; you can easily imagine the reasons why. The same is true for charter schools, the publicly-funded alternative to public schools that are supposed to provide competition to public schools. It is well-documented that the few private and charter school systems that actually do achieve superior student academic results do so by enforcing greater student disciplinary conditions, being able to choose students (termed “cherry-picking” in the education world), and being able to permanently suspend students and force them to return to the public school system which must accept them. Despite having the tables stacked against them, overall the public school system does better overall than charter and private religious schools.

    It is clear–at least to secularists and those who value the separation of religion and government as mandated by both the U.S. and Texas Constitutions–that the role of the State of Texas acting as the intermediate administrator, bookkeeper, and facilitator for the tax credit to scholarship scheme is the place at which the constitutionally-impermissible government intrusion into the religious sphere occurs, in this case, by promoting the success of religious schools by helping to transfer private money to church schools. If the wealthy business owners directly funded private religious school scholarships themselves without the facilitation of the state, no constitutional affront would occur. Religious institutions always oppose government intrusion into their affairs, and rightly so, except when the government is offering them free money. There are no legal restraints that prevent a state from publicly funding secular private schools, but this was never done until recently because the precedent would encourage religious private schools to ask for the same consideration. The charter school system was started by religious right politicians–over the objections of public school supporters–to provide precisely this precedent. Charter schools are supposed to be public schools because they are publicly funded and must use the secular public school curriculum, but in fact about half of all charter schools are associated with religious institutions. They are, in reality if not in name, publicly-funded private religious schools. Now the radical religious right wants to end even this pretense.

  3. Faith-based economics. Faith-based education. Faith-based “facts.”

    Good heavens, doesn’t anybody recognize a charlatan any more? Joseph Bast has all the professional standing of a hobo. He should be shown the door and told not to come back.