School choice is a good thing, right? School vouchers are good for students, right?
These both sound great, don’t they? Who wouldn’t want some free money from the state to help pay for private school, even for those who can easily afford it?
But stop for a minute and consider this question: Don’t you find it strange that the rollout of a flawed A-F accountability system conveniently coincides with start of the 2017 Legislative session — AND with Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s push for vouchers?
Private schools have to be better than public schools, don’t they?
To really find out the answers to these questions, let’s take a closer look at school vouchers and see what they do. (By the way — other labels for vouchers include: school choice, tax credit scholarships and education savings accounts, so don’t get confused when you hear these other terms.)
First of all, how many private schools, with $12,000 in tuition per year, do you think will accept a child with only a $5,000 voucher in his or her pocket?
And how many private or charter schools will accept a special-needs child, a child with behavioral issues or a child with differing religious beliefs?
No doubt, some will accept these children (if they can afford it) but most will not. Private, as well as charter schools, get to pick and choose who they let through their doors. So where do all of the remaining children go to school?
That’s right, public schools.
Public schools will end up with all of the special-needs children, children with behavioral problems, non-involved parents and children from lower socioeconomic families. And to top it off, the public schools will continue to be graded on how well the remaining students perform on a high-stakes tests given one day out of the year, while private schools will not be given A-F grades nor any of the other accountability requirements that public schools currently have.
Also, let’s say that a local public school district loses 100 students who use their $5,000 vouchers to go somewhere else. The local school district will lose $500,000 in annual funding, but their expenses will not decrease proportionately. In fact, removing one or two students out of each classroom does not have a considerable fiscal impact on: teacher and staff payroll and benefits, utility costs, bus transportation, textbooks, or technology. The list goes on and on.
So who really loses when the state takes away that $500,000 each year from the local public schools? Students!
The Texas Declaration of Independence in 1836 listed the failure of the Mexican government “to establish any public system of education” among the reasons for severing political ties with Mexico.
Furthermore, beginning in 1876, the Texas Constitution requires that every child should get an education by stating, “it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”
Nowhere in our Constitution does it state any provision for private schools. I would argue that sending taxpayer money to private schools isn’t only unconscionable, but also unconstitutional.
As taxpayers, it is our responsibility to demand that public schools be funded appropriately. The last thing our founders wanted (and we should also fight against) is a state with poorly educated people. Apparently, we already have enough of those.
And we haven’t even started discussing how home-school families could see entitlement windfalls with multiple children getting handouts of $5,000 for each home-schooled child. We will begin to see a lot more parents (with most of them being highly unqualified, uncertified and untested) entering into new home-school teaching careers, again at the taxpayers and students’ expense.
According to the National Education Association, Texas ranked 38th nationally in the amount of money spent per student in the 2014-15 school year. Texas spent only $10,602 per student while the national average was $12,578 per student. Contrast this with the $27,962 that Vermont spent per student.
Texas cannot afford to adequately fund one school system. How can the state now afford to fund two systems?
Unless we want to destroy the public school system altogether, I suggest that we fix the one we have before we start funding and replacing it with another one.
We need to be asking ourselves one important questions: Which matters most, political agendas — or our students’ education?
Do the right thing Texas!
Randy Sedlacek is a local businessman and president of the Denison ISD Board of Trustees. Email him at Randy@RLS.net. Follow him on Twitter @RandySedlacek.