Public Education Advocates Oppose New Voucher Proposal

Public Education Advocates Oppose New Voucher Proposal


April 30, 2004

AUSTIN Public school supporters today called on legislators to reject a large and very costly new voucher proposal now being pushed at the Capitol by lobbyists for major voucher proponents.

The proposed program would include vouchers for a wide range of students, including children with disabilities, in 31 school districts from five large urban counties: Bexar, Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Travis. Starting in the 2004-05 school year, this massive voucher program would drain hundreds of millions of dollars annually from already cash-strapped public schools to underwrite private school tuition.

“Vouchers drain money from public schools, a terrible idea particularly at a time when our neighborhood schools are struggling to pay for textbooks and reading programs,” said Samantha Smoot, president of the Texas Freedom Network. “This reckless proposal would threaten the fiscal stability of dozens of school districts even as legislators struggle right now for consensus on how to pay for our schools.”

One of the lobbyists circulating the proposed voucher plan is Charles Evans of Austin, who has connections to wealthy voucher backer Dr. James Leininger of San Antonio. In addition to spending millions of dollars to support voucher programs, Dr. Leininger is one of the largest campaign donors to Gov. Rick Perry and other elected officials. In February, Dr. Leininger spent a long weekend in the Bahamas with Gov. Perry discussing the special session on public education.

Advocates for children with disabilities are particularly concerned because the new voucher proposal would affect disabled students. A Florida judge has ruled that disabled children who accept vouchers from a similar Florida program lose their rights under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

“These laws ensure that students with disabilities and their parents have the right to participate in the development of their individualized education programs,” said Rona Statman, Director of Family Support Service for The Arc of Texas.”

Smoot said the voucher plan would most likely be added to school finance legislation on the House floor next week.