Proposed schemes for private school vouchers — which drain money from neighborhood public schools to pay for tuition at private and religious schools — have sparked heated battles in Texas legislative sessions since the 1990s. Tomorrow the Senate Education Committee will take up two key voucher bills.
Senate Bill 1301 by Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, would provide vouchers for students with autism and autism spectrum disorder. SB 183 by Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, would create a broader voucher program for students with disabilities.
All Texas kids, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, deserve a quality education in Texas public schools. But voucher schemes aren’t the answer. Why? Among the reasons:
- They would drain away millions of dollars that public schools need to provide special education services to students with disabilities who would not go to a private school.
- The value of each voucher would not be enough to cover the full costs of special education services charged by private providers. Higher-income families would be able to afford to cover the cost difference, while low-income families would not. Moreover, families smaller communities — especially in rural areas — would have few or no private options. Students with disabilities would then be attending public schools with even fewer resources for providing special education services.
- Public tax dollars would be diverted to private entities that are unaccountable to taxpayers and don’t have to meet the same standards as public schools.
- Limited voucher bills such as these in other states have served to open the door to far more expensive schemes. In Texas a broader voucher scheme could drain hundreds of millions of dollars from neighborhood public schools.
Families of children with disabilities deserve real help, not false promises that would weaken our public schools by draining away scarce resources. We applaud Sen. Shapiro’s and Sen. Williams’ desire to help students with special needs, but these bills would only make it harder for most families to get that help.
These bills address issues such as teacher training, program development, accountability measures and transition planning for students as they leave the school system.
What can you do? Contact Senate Education Committee members and tell them that voucher schemes aren’t the solution for families of students with autism. Our public schools should instead have the tools and resources they need to provide all students with disabilities a quality education.