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

by Dan Quinn

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.

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Chuck Lindell

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