Discussion of taxpayer-funded private school vouchers has surfaced in every Texas legislative session since 1995. After years of unsuccessful attempts to pass legislation, proponents introduced vouchers in the form of “tax credits” and “taxpayer savings grants,” but they were unsuccessful yet again in 2011 and 2013.
Now it’s 2015, and vouchers are back. The difference is that key leaders have declared passage of a voucher program to be a high priority. Defeating voucher legislation, this session will require reminding lawmakers of the damage vouchers would do to Texas’ public schools.
10 Reasons to Oppose Voucher Programs
1. Vouchers and the broader issue of school choice are being touted as the “civil rights issue of the 21st century” because they would provide poor children with an “escape from failing schools.” However, the amount of a voucher would not be enough to cover tuition at most private schools. Only more affluent families with the means to pay the balance of their children’s tuition would truly benefit. This would leave the very children vouchers are supposed to help left behind in schools with even less funding than before.
2. School choice already exists in Texas, with transfers, magnets, and charter schools. In fact, in 2013, the Legislature raised the cap on the number of charter school operators in Texas from 215 to 305 by 2019 — the largest charter school expansion since 2001.
3. Private schools are the ones that have a choice with vouchers.
They may or may not enroll any student they choose. Those with track records of academic failure, those with disabilities, and those who are difficult to teach due to behavioral issues would not be the top choices of private schools with limited space. Those children, the ones who need the most attention would be left behind in schools lacking the resources to pro- vide them with what they need.
4. Texas public schools have already endured massive funding cuts, and a broken (and unconstitutional) school finance system is yet to be fixed by the Legislature. Texas ranks in the bottom third of states for per-pupil expenditures, despite having one of the healthiest (if not the healthiest) economies in the U.S. and a rich reserve.
5. Six out of 10 Texas public school students live in or nearly in poverty, according to a recently released report from the Southern Education Foundation. Economically disadvantaged students — the students most likely to be left behind in underfunded public schools should a voucher program be established — are historically more
expensive to educate than more affluent students because they don’t have as many external educational opportunities. Also, districts often provide them with more services. Schools need more, not less, money to educate these students.
6. At a time when the state’s public schools are being held to increasingly rigorous accountability standards, lawmakers should not allow public, taxpayer dollars to be spent at private or religious schools that do not have to meet the same standards — either for students or for teachers.
7. Most private schools have a religious affiliation and include religion in their curricula. Vouchers would allow public funds to be spent on religious activities, blurring the line between church and state.
8. Private schools do not exist in every part of Texas, especially in rural areas. If a voucher program is created, fly-by-night private schools could pop up across the state, offering “choice,” while profiting from public tax dollars. In fact, some might question whether the push to create a voucher program is truly motivated by a desire to help poor children “escape failing schools,” or if it is really a scheme designed to siphon public funds for private gain.
9. According to a February 2015 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll of registered voters, a voucher program was the least popular way to improve public schools, with 49 percent of those polled saying it would be a good idea. In comparison, 66 percent said increasing the pay of public school teachers and increasing opportunities for online learning would be effective, 63 percent said cutting the number of standardized tests would improve schools, and 62 percent said allowing more localized control over academic standards and curriculum would be effective.
10. Depending on the limitations set in the specific voucher legislation, hundreds of thousands of students who are currently attending private schools or homeschool could begin to receive vouchers, requiring the state to spend much more on education than it currently does.
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