Texas Voucher Scam Would Shift Hundreds of Millions in Tax Dollars from Public to Private Schools

On Wednesday anti-public education politicians rallied behind a proposed new voucher scheme to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars each year from neighborhood public schools to private and religious schools in Texas. Those funding transfers would come on top of billions in funding cuts to public schools passed by the Legislature in 2011 — cuts lawmakers still haven’t fully restored.

State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-San Antonio, has filed Senate Bill 276, which would create so-called “taxpayer savings grants” that subsidize tuition at private and religious schools. The funds behind those subsidies would be taken from public schools — the so-called “savings” to taxpayers. Her legislation is backed by Dan Patrick, the incoming Republican lieutenant governor.

The Coalition for Public Schools, of which the Texas Freedom Network is a member, sent out the following press release on Wednesday:

A proposed new private school voucher scheme, a so-called “taxpayer savings grant,” represents a massive tax-giveaway that would drain hundreds of millions of dollars each year from neighborhood public schools to subsidize tuition at private and religious schools, mostly benefiting wealthy families.

Charles Luke, coordinator for the Coalition for Public Schools, notes several major flaws to Sen. Donna Campbell’s voucher scheme, Senate Bill 276.

“Senator Campbell’s proposal would pose yet another threat to the education of 5.1 million Texas children who attend our local neighborhood schools,” Luke said. “We’ve seen this kind of creative math before, and the state of Texas simply cannot afford to fund two separate school systems: one for the vast majority of Texas children and another for those students granted state funding to attend a private, for-profit school that is not accountable to the taxpayers for how they use our tax dollars.”

Among the flaws in Sen. Campbell’s proposed voucher scheme:

  • First, the scheme is modeled after previous bills that analysts have shown would end up funneling more state dollars to educate a student at a private school than a student attending a public school.
  • Second, the proposed legislation explicitly exempts private schools that accept the voucher dollars from state education accountability regulations, financial and academic, that public schools must meet. That would leave private schools unaccountable to the taxpayers providing the funds.
  • Third, the students most likely to benefit from this voucher scheme are those from wealthy families that can afford to pay the difference between the value of the voucher and the actual cost of tuition at a private or religious school. That contradicts claims that this voucher scheme would close achievement gaps between low-income and wealthy families.

The Legislature has yet to make up the massive funding cuts to public schools passed in 2011. This proposed voucher scheme would make it even harder for public schools to cover that funding shortfall.

“This bill is just another voucher scam that cuts funds that public schools need to educate the vast majority of Texas students while creating a parallel taxpayer-funded system for unaccountable private schools,” Luke said. “The promised ‘savings’ come at the expense of kids left behind in public schools with even less funding than they had before.”

TFN is tracking proposed legislation in Texas this year on our Legislative Watch page.

16 thoughts on “Texas Voucher Scam Would Shift Hundreds of Millions in Tax Dollars from Public to Private Schools

  1. No surprise. Education in Texas is not a priority. Not when you cut 5.4 million, and have legislators like Paxton say, ‘we survived, and we are fine”.

    This is bullshit.

  2. Texass is now one of the worst states in this Country to educate our children. My hubby and I are seriously looking at selling our home, purchased just a year ago when we moved from Nebraska to escape the cold weather and brain dead rethugs running that state. Little did I know or realize that Texass is much worse than Nebraska when it comes to ignorant rethugs. Sad that people don’t bother to vote, and then allow the rethugs to take over and make the lives of the poor and minorities a living hell.

      1. Similarly, Tom, don’t let an undereducated Texan rob your ass, abuse drugs, be unemployed or not support his children, who are likely to go on to rob your children. If everyone who lives in Texas and points out its institutionalized faults were to leave TX, Texas would lose a lot of its vibrancy, art, resource conservation, literature, educators, etc. The ones who “love TX just as it is” are stuck in the past with blinders on. Bluebonnets, two-stepping and BBQ are NOT what this state is known for by the rest of the country. We are known for being outrageously behind the times thanks tio our elected officials.

  3. Has Campbell ever bothered to read the Texas constitution? Especially Article I, Sections 6 and 7, and Article VII, Section 5? She evidently cares not a hoot about either public schools or the religious freedom of Texas taxpayers. – Edd Doerr (arlinc.org)

  4. I knew this voucher legislation that will really damage Texas public schools was coming this year and now that Dan Patrick has been elected Lt. Governor it has its best chance of passing. Authoritarian political control, reductions in funding, huge increases in testing (since reduced), politicization of instructional materials, attacks on teachers unions and state teachers retirement programs, and organized resistance to adopting improved national standards and curriculum are all designed to damage public education, lower student academic success, and soften up parents and voters to favor alternative radical voucher programs that use public tax money to pay for private schools, 90% of which are religious. Unfortunately, a 5-4 Supreme Court decision (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 2002) allows state-wide tax-supported voucher schemes for private religious schools (Louisiana has such a program and Florida has a scheme for low-income students that is intended to ultimately “benefit” all students; both of these non-secular and unconstitutional programs continue to face litigation), and individuals such as Patrick and Campbell have been salivating for years to get Texas to adopt such a voucher scheme. State-wide private school voucher programs proposed again and again have almost invariably failed in most states for a variety of reasons.

    Two things have saved ultra-red-state Texas from this abomination in the recent past: (1) the Texas Senate 2/3 majority rule that made it possible for Democratic Senators to prevent the legislation from reaching the floor for a vote and (2) the opposition of rural Republican House members to such a voucher scheme since they knew it would hurt their local public school districts and benefit only wealthy students to the detriment of the vast majority of students who come from lower-income families (this is because vouchers don’t pay the entire cost of private schools but only an amount approximately equal to a family’s property tax). Smaller rural towns and cities don’t have a large number of private schools and are dependent on the state public school system for educating their students, so they want to save it. Even though they are conservative Christian Republicans, they know what a state voucher program will do to their local public schools, so they oppose it. This is the height of irony.

    Now the calculus has changed: (1) Dan Patrick made no attempt to conceal the fact that he opposed the Senate 2/3 majority rule to bring bills to the floor and that he intends to get rid of it, so Senate Democrats will become essentially powerless to mitigate harmful legislation as they have in the past. (2) Rural Republican State Representatives are losing members from their caucus as urbanization continues to increase in Texas; there are now too few of them to make much of an impact in opposing voucher schemes as was the case in the past. (3) Massive Republican gerrymandering has reduced the proper proportion of Democratic state legislators and increased the proportion of radical Republican legislators, so Democrats plus rural Republicans are now a minority in the State House. (4) The majority of students in Texas public schools are now of minority ethnic extraction (African-American, Latino, Asian, Muslim, etc.) so the proportion of traditional White Anglo students has greatly decreased and this trend is increasing. The overwhelming majority of White Anglo Republican legislators in Texas now have less of a stake in the quality and health of the public schools system and are less willing to protect it from calamitous financial loss. Since most of them are Christian fundamentalists they would rather see increased state funding of private religious schools that promote their own religious beliefs, such as Young Earth Creationism (a prospect equally heartwarming to most of the Republicans on the Texas State Board of Education, most of whom are Young Earth Creationists!). Republicans are notoriously unconcerned with the improvement of society in general, which obviously requires good education for ALL children, not just the elite Anglo White children. In their reactionary view only the education of children of their own religious, ethnic, political, and financial class deserves a top notch education in their private religious schools and the rest of the kids can settle for a de-funded second-class public school education. The idea of trying to educate all children to a high level so that the entire Texas society prospers is alien to them.

    As I have often explained, the ulterior motive of the impossible-to-meet goals and drastically increased amount of testing mandated by No Child Left Behind was intended to document the failure of public schools and thus encourage the alternative of private school vouchers. The initiative of the Charter Schools program was designed to weaken traditional public schools systems by siphoning off money from them to pay for the new “public” schools; the creation of thousands of charter schools was meant to have dozens to hundreds in place when states finally voted to allow vouchers, a camel’s nose under the tent sort of thing. The charter schools were expected to show their true colors and switch to being private religious schools when the voucher scheme became legal. Many, perhaps most, charter schools are associated with religious institutions of some sort and a few couldn’t wait to violate their legal mandate of remaining secular. I have often claimed that Republicans are carrying out a War on Public Education with all their new programs. I am just amazed that it took liberals and Democrats so long to see what was happening. Now it’s just going to be much worse.

  5. Edd Doerr is referring to the following two clauses in the Texas Constitution:

    (Art. 1)(7) APPROPRIATIONS FOR SECTARIAN PURPOSES. No money shall be appropriated, or drawn from the Treasury for the benefit of any sect, or religious society, theological or religious seminary; nor shall property belonging to the State be appropriated for any such purposes.

    (Art. 7)(5)(c) The available school fund shall be applied annually to the support of the public free schools. Except as provided by this section, the legislature may not enact a law appropriating any part of the permanent school fund or available school fund to any other purpose. The permanent school fund and the available school fund may not be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school. The available school fund shall be distributed to the several counties according to their scholastic population and applied in the manner provided by law.

    These two constitutional clauses or provisions are derived from the nineteenth century’s Blaine Amendment (BA), a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that forbid public funding of sectarian religious institutions, specifically including funding private religious schools with public tax money raised for state support of public schools. The BA had several motivating factors which I won’t discuss here. The amendment failed to pass Congress by only a few votes, but eventually 38 states incorporated the Blaine language into their state constitutions. Texas is one of these states, while Louisiana is one that did not (and thus has no state constitutional impediment to a state-wide voucher system).

    How relevant are the two Blaine clauses in the Texas Constitution? A literal reading would suggest that using state tax money to pay for private religious schools in Texas is explicitly forbidden. That is the meaning that Edd intends to convey. But not so fast. Christian political extremists have never been deterred by the law, Constitutional or otherwise. You should know that by now. They certainly know about the two Blaine clauses, but I think they believe they are irrelevant. Here’s why. First, Zelman v Simmons-Harris was a Supreme Court decision and is therefore now federal law (religious fundamentalists hate the idea that federal court decisions are federal law except when they are benefitted, as they are in this case). Federal law trumps state law, so voucher scheme proponents believe Blaine clauses in 38 states’ constitutions are irrelevant. Of course, most constitutional experts believe Zelman was incorrectly decided since it ignores precedent and appears to fly in the face of the Establishment Clause, but five activist Republican-appointed SC justices can decide what the law is and write a semi-plausible justification after the fact, no matter how odious the decision is (and there have been several such reprehensible 5-4 decisions in recent years, such as Bush v Gore and Citizens United), but that is irrelevant until one of the five activist radical Republican justices is replaced by a Democratic-appointed justice who respects both legal precedent and the Constitution.

    Second, the Blaine state constitutional clauses have never really been tested by litigation, certainly not by any that has reached the Circuit Courts or Supreme Court, so their relevancy and validity remain to be seen. Florida has a Blaine clause in its constitution and the litigation there is ongoing. Jeb Bush and Rick Scott began the voucher effort and Scott’s re-election means the courtroom struggle will continue for years (Charlie Christ was going to end the voucher program). No one knows how this litigation will turn out. If Texas adopts a state-wide voucher program for the first time despite the considerable Constitutional objections, as seems likely to me as explained in my previous comment, the legal challenges will be fast and massive in both state and federal courts. Once aspect of those challenges will be invoking the Blaine clauses in state court. This may be bumped up to federal court where the Establishment Clause will be invoked (good luck with that if it reaches our current Supreme Court, where five members basically have nothing but contempt for secularism). No one can really predict how this litigation will conclude since Texas state courts and it appears the Supreme Court are now completely political and the law–any laws–are irrelevant no matter how explicitly they forbid something (and the Blaine clauses are as explicit as they can be, don’t you think). If you can appoint the judges and justices and have them on your side, the radical Republican zealots really believe they can get away with anything. That’s why I think my friend Edd Doerr is probably wrong, although in a just and fair world he would be right.

    A third scam that Republicans may use is to propose an amendment to the Texas Constitution that removes the Blaine clauses and ask the voters to approve it. The amendment can be worded in a particularly ambiguous and misrepresentative way with the intention of fooling the voters. Voters are often asked to vote on a dozen obscure constitutional amendments since that’s how basic changes to Texas law are done in Texas. Deliberately making the wording of an amendment unclear is also a common tactic, so that voters will vote for something thinking it will be good for them when actually it will be very bad (I assume that being obliged by the state to have your tax money pay for the religious education of children who don’t share your religion is bad!). In fact, Rick Scott tried this ploy in 2008 and put an amendment to Florida’s constitution on the ballot that would remove Florida’s Blaine protections. The amendment was worded to fool voters by falsely making it seem that citizens’ religious liberty would be enhanced if the amendment passed (since one motivation for the nineteenth century Blaine Amendment and clauses was to counter the increasing number of Catholic parochial schools, since American state-supported public schools were in fact Protestant schools, Scott’s legal team tried to deceive Florida voters into believing that their state constitution’s Blaine clause was anti-Catholic). I believe the amendment failed to pass or legal challenges prevented it from being voted upon. I’m sorry I don’t remember the details, but obviously Scott’s legal team believed the Florida Constitution’s Blaine clause needed to be removed for a state voucher scheme to legally pass. Texas is apparently past that problem. We’ll see.

    1. All of the above has been proven moot as the Charter School have been approved. These schools are profit motivated and are awarded State Public Education dollars to teach children enrolled. In El Paso we have almost 5,000 students in these schools and we are now getting ready to close some public schools because of enrollment problems. Texas will get their vouchers through and our State will head closer to the bottom of educational attainment very rapidly.

      1. Two comments, Dan. First, charter schools are by definition public schools and thus must be secular by law. Some charter schools are profit-motivated, not all. The Blaine clauses do not (usually) affect charter schools.

        Second, Texas is already close to the bottom of educational attainment (due to the persistent and counter-productive political meddling and manipulation of instructional standards, curricula, instructional materials, and disrespect of teachers).

        You are correct that the rise of charter schools is taking money away from public schools (since state education money is distributed on the basis of student population) and this causes low-population public schools to close for want of funding. A state voucher program will greatly accelerate this process and result in closing vast numbers of public schools throughout the state. Voucher proponents repeatedly claim the opposite but they are lying.

  6. Where did I get the crazy idea that investing in education is one of the BEST things a state can do for its residents? Do Dan Patrick & Donna Campbell REALLY want to live in a state where most of its children receive a grossly substandard and incomplete education? Do they realize that lack of education is a serious factor contributing to crime, poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, poor parenting, poor health, etc. etc. etc.? Is what these two are advocating truly in the interest of MOST Texans, or just privileged white churchgoers? The election of Dan Patrick was indeed a very dark day for Texas. I hope the average Texan will survive his ruthlessness.

    1. Like Steve Schafersman I believe that Zelman was wrongly decided. But, as I recall, it had to do with the US First Amendment, not a state constitution. So I think that the relevant sections of the TX and other state cons will survive. Of course, some TX politicians may try to amend the TX constitution, but any amendment would have to be approved by the state’s voters. Between 1966 and 2014 there have been 28 state referenda from coast to coast on various gimmicks to divert public $ to private schools, and they were all voted down by an average of 2 to 1, most recently in Florida in 2012,when Jeb Bush’s school voucher plan went down in flames, and in 2014 when a similar plan was defeated in Hawaii. A similar effort in TX would also fail. Even Republicans in rural counties would vote against it because it would bring them no gain while weakening support for their public schools and undermining their religious freedom, their fundamental right not to have government force them to support religious institutions not of their own faith. Let us note that the largest beneficiary of North Carolina’s school voucher plan is the Greensboro Islamic Academy (sic!). The religious freedom language of the TX constitution is just fine. It should be left alone. — Edd Doerr, President, Americans for Religious Liberty (arlinc.org)

      1. Edd, there is a third reason Christian religious school voucher supporters probably think the two Blaine clauses in the Texas Constitution are irrelevant. They forbid using state tax money appropriated for the benefit of religious sects or schools, but under the proposed voucher scheme no public tax money is directly appropriated or used for the benefit of funding sectarian schools. Instead, money from private companies is given to students as scholarships to attend private and religious schools of their choice, and the companies are reimbursed by the state with tax abatements or rebates. Since the goal and ultimate outcome is the same as giving state funds directly to private and religious schools, this convoluted scheme of funneling what should be state tax money to sectarian schools at public expense through a complicit third party won’t deceive anybody, including the courts, but some unscrupulous judges may nevertheless find that this indirect money route is not necessarily prohibited by the strict language of the Texas Blaine laws. What kind of state judge would parse the language of explicit Constitutional injunctions against using public money for religious schools by focusing on literal wording while ignoring the context or spirit of the law? Oh yes, those judges who are willing to emulate the five-man majority on the U.S. Supreme Court who decided, for example, Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, who were able to ignore the context and spirit of the First Amendment.

        1. Right, Steve. Indirect tax aid to faith-based private schools is equivalent to saying that you can’t come in through the front door but it’s OK to sneak in through a rear window.

  7. It is common knowledge that since Texas under-educates its students, Texas must obtain educated knowledge workers by parasitizing the superior public education systems of other states. In addition to being ignorant and venal hypocrites who operate within a crony or insider business system, Texas public officials also have no shame (think of Dan Patrick for all of these attributes). They think they are doing a great job for Texas by under-funding public education to save money and enticing companies and workers properly educated in other states to move to Texas and economically benefit our state rather than their home states.

  8. I have a special needs child and would like to use my tax dollars to send him to the school I choose, not the one you choose.

    Both my parents are retired CA pubic school educators. California’s politicians have created an entitlement culture while racking up huge deficits. Texas politicians are much wiser, thus the business growth to0.

    Time to put your personal agendas, beliefs, and egos aside to allow parents to choose what is best for their children… including their education.

    Is this accurate? If so, perhaps someone has a hidden agenda?
    Steven Dale Schafersman is an American geologist and current President of Texas Citizens for Science, an advocacy group that opposes teaching creationism as science in the public schools. Wikipedia

    1. Krista, I’m sure you are doing all you can to secure the services your child needs. And I’m sure it is frustrating at times. Have you considered informing Donna Campbell and Dan Patrick of the problems you have had getting services for your special needs child? Dan Patrick is giddy about cutting education budget — especially REDUCING teacher salaries. Just what we need: further discouragement of talented young people considering becoming teachers. If ed budget wasn’t so pillaged by our Republican leadership, there could be funds designated for a variety of programs & services for kids such as yours. Why aren’t your tax dollars be designated for such? Because our current regime does not value education of all Texans. They are content to keep many, many Texas families mired in low-wage jobs (at best) and poverty. Effective education of our children is a remedy! Dan & Cronies: When will you realize that TX kids are our main resource for future success?!?!?!?!