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

by Dan Quinn

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.