A recent editorial by Texas politician Don Huffines began with a headline announcing that “Students deserve school choice.” Really, Mr. Huffines? School choice has been alive and well throughout Texas school districts for years! Our families currently enjoy the right to choose from among thousands of excellent public (or charter) schools to determine the ones they feel are best for their children, based on data derived from stringent public accountability. Even better…these high quality public schools are free of charge, guaranteed by law for the benefit of EVERY child regardless of circumstances, now and forever. That, my friends, is choice at its fairest and most equitable best.
Vouchers, on the other hand, are NOT a good thing. They’re not fair, and they’re certainly not equitable. What they ARE is yet another subsidy for the state’s wealthiest families. Consider the facts and do the math: Vouchers would give $7,500 (per child, per year) of our hard-earned tax money to supposedly help every Texas family pay for private school tuition for their children. For wealthy families with four children in private schools, the $7,500 per child per year adds up to an automatic savings of $30,000 annually (that computes to $360,000 over 12 years!) —- for a family that can certainly afford the full tuition without the voucher subsidy. For our less fortunate working families who struggle to make ends meet, it will be virtually impossible to come up with the extra $10,000 minimum they’ll need just to cover the full tuition —- and that’s if you’re looking at an “average” private school in Texas, no uniforms or incidentals included. Some private schools cost as much as $20,000 per year. As public educators, we are not against private schools which serve a valuable purpose in our communities. We are simply against using public taxpayer money to fund them through vouchers.
Vouchers also come with no strings attached (which is never a good thing when taxpayer money is involved), creating an environment open to fraud and waste. There are no requirements for accountability to ensure effective teaching and learning; no requirement that private schools (like their public school counterparts) accept all students regardless of circumstances or challenges; no requirement for bus transportation for hard-working families who can’t provide transportation and keep their jobs; no education certification or accountability requirements for families who want $7,500 per child to home school their children; no required number of attendance days; no certification or experience requirements for administrators and school leaders. The list is long and concerning, as are the potential problems and pitfalls, with the ultimate victims being inadequately served Texas children.
It is important to note that vouchers have reared their ugly heads from time to time but have never gained traction, primarily because of their dismal and failing track record. They tend to appear sporadically in a few states across the nation, then fade from public scrutiny. One study that Huffines (of the Huffines automotive giant in Dallas) cited in his opinion piece as support for vouchers ended abruptly in 2006 with no explanation; likewise, a voucher program Huffines called “successful” also ended abruptly in 2008, again with no explanation.
In reality, the great majority of current research on voucher programs points to failure after dismal failure: in Milwaukee where voucher students performed below public school students on statewide reading and math tests; in Indianapolis where students who attended private schools with vouchers showed “no benefit” in reading skills while suffering “moderate and statistically significant average annual losses” in math (as their public school peers continued to improve); in Washington DC where a study conducted by Patrick Wolf for the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance found that students in a DC voucher program performed no better in reading or math with a voucher than without one; in Louisiana where a 2016 study found “strong and consistent evidence” that school voucher students attending private schools “performed significantly worse in math;” or another study in Louisiana which found that attending voucher-eligible private schools increased the likelihood of a child failing math by 50%, and “negative and large” effects on reading, science and social studies.”
Consider also the negative financial impact that comes with vouchers. It is a known fact that school vouchers funnel money away from already-struggling public schools and children —- and redistribute those tax dollars to private schools and wealthier families who can fully afford their children’s private school price tags. Case in point: Indiana, where the voucher program currently costs the state approximately $50 million MORE in state money for education than originally budgeted. Additionally, five years after Indiana’s voucher program was established in 2011, statistics show that more than half of the state’s voucher recipients have never attended Indiana public schools, meaning that taxpayers are now covering private and religious school tuition for children whose parents had previously footed that bill.
In conclusion, why would anyone want to replace a public school institution that has successfully educated its young people for more than 150 years to become some of the best and most productive people on the planet…with an expensive voucher system that threatens to fail the great majority of our children? To subsidize the rich at the expense of the poor? Is this the right thing to do?
No, it’s not. Instead, let’s insist that our lawmakers fund our public schools adequately, equitably and fairly. Let’s lend a hand up to all our children, not just a chosen few. Let’s expand and enhance the incredibly great public school system that we have in place here in Texas. And last but not least, let’s continue to give each and every Texas child the priceless gift of the best free public education available, as promised by our constitution. After all, it’s the right thing to do.