Voucher Lobby Launches Full Frontal Assault on Texas Public Schools

by Dan Quinn

Powerful interests pushing private school voucher schemes in Texas are launching today what might be their strongest attack on neighborhood public schools in years. The Senate Education Committee is hearing public testimony on three proposed voucher bills — each one of which could end up draining billions of dollars from public education to subsidize tuition at private and religious schools.

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller will testify at the hearing and remind senators that their responsibility under the Texas Constitution is to fund public schools, not private and religious schools. Yet the Legislature cut $5.4 billion from public education just four years ago and has yet to restore all of that funding.

Each of the bills under consideration today creates a different voucher scheme but does essentially the same thing: drain tax dollars from funding for neighborhood public schools so that the state can subsidize — directly or indirectly — private and religious schools.

SB 4 by state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, and SB 642 by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, would give tax breaks to corporations that donate to organizations providing “tuition grants” or “scholarships” at private and religious schools. Every dollar that funds these corporate tax loopholes would be unavailable for the state’s cash-starved public schools.

SB 276 by state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, would create so-called “taxpayer savings grants” that shift a large share of funding for a public school student over to subsidizing tuition at a private or religious school instead.

Private and religious schools getting these taxpayer subsidies would not be subject to the same rules and regulations that govern the state’s public schools. That means those voucher schools would not be accountable to the taxpayers who are funding them.

Moreover, supporters misleadingly claim that these voucher schemes will actually save taxpayer dollars or won’t take money from public schools because private donors would be using tax credits to pay for the vouchers. These claims are a charade. The reality is precisely the opposite, as Kathy and other representatives of other members of the Coalition for Public Schools will point out today.

You can watch a live-stream of the hearing here. We’re also live-tweeting the hearing: @tfn. Stay tuned.