Texas Sen. Wendy Davis Schools Senate Ed Committee Chair on Voucher Bill

by Dan Quinn

For months state Sen. Dan Patrick — the Republican chairman of the Texas Senate Education Committee — has insisted that the Legislature should divert millions of dollars from public education to subsidize tuition at private and religious schools. Sen. Patrick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst even held a press conference at a parochial school in Austin to promote their ideas. They and other voucher advocates have often seemed to care more about helping private schools increase their enrollment than in helping the state’s public schools educate 5 million Texas kids.

But Sen. Patrick’s legislation creating a tax-credit voucher scheme, Senate Bill 23, ran into a buzz saw in today’s Education Committee hearing. That buzz saw was Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, a true champion for public education.

Sen. Davis pointed out that Texas ranks 49th among the nation’s 50 states and the District of Columbia in spending per pupil. In fact, just Nevada and Arizona spend less than Texas on a per-pupil basis. We’re starving our public schools, Sen. Davis said, and then blaming those schools when they struggle. And voucher schemes — whether through tax credits or direct state subsidies — would divert more money from those public schools.

Sen. Davis also noted a number of other problems with tax-credit voucher schemes like the one proposed by Sen. Patrick. For example, they advantage just one class of taxpayers — businesses that would get a state tax break for donations they make to voucher-scholarship programs. Donors to other charitable causes wouldn’t get a state tax break.

Sen. Davis also put the lie to claims that tax-credit vouchers wouldn’t take money from public education because, voucher advocates say, that money would never go through the state’s coffers in the first place. The truth, as Sen. Davis made clear, is that state tax breaks given to voucher donors would mean less money available for the Legislature to appropriate for public schools. She made that point when noting the threat to religious freedom posed by voucher schemes that divert public tax dollars to religious schools. That led her into a revealing exchange with Sen. Patrick:

Sen. Davis: “The concern is that a taxpayer who provides their resources to the state of Texas would ultimately be paying for a child to attend a school whose religious values they disagree with.”

Sen. Patrick claimed such criticism wasn’t warranted because his bill relies on tax credits for voucher-scholarship donors: “It’s not public education dollars. It’s a tax credit that an individual business or a businesses give to a student.”

Sen. Davis: “That would have otherwise have been paid in their margins tax, which would other have gone to public school system.”

Sen. Patrick: “It’s not public money coming out of public education, no matter how many times you say it.”

Sen. Davis: “And it’s not not, no matter how many times you say it.”