First, the pro-voucher crowd trotted out economist-for-hire Arthur Laffer, who issued a mostly political, pie-in-the-sky report claiming that private school vouchers would coat Texas’ future in gold. Laffer’s report was promptly discredited by a serious, academic review concluding that it was “unsuitable as a basis for public policy decisions.”
The Austin American-Statesman had a more succinct description – “hogwash.”
Undeterred, though, the folks who insist on wasting public money on school privatization then presented someone else who knows very little about public schools — former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm — as a star, lead-off witness at yesterday’s Senate committee hearing on vouchers. Gramm admitted he hasn’t set foot in a classroom in years. But what he didn’t know about public schools (a lot), he more than made up for in corn-pone bluster and misstatements of fact.
You may recall that Gramm spent his fairly long career on the taxpayers’ payroll bashing government, and yesterday’s testimony was more of the same, except this time he zeroed in on public schools. He claimed Texas’ public schools were a failure, when, in fact, the vast majority of public schools are successful, thanks to thousands of hard-working, under-paid educators.
Only recently, the Texas Education Agency announced that Texas has one of the highest overall graduation rates in the country – 88 percent for the class of 2013 – and the highest graduation rates in the country for Hispanics and African Americans. And, some 95 percent of Texas school districts are meeting accountability standards.
Yet, there was Gramm – with voucher advocates fawning all over him – castigating public schools with a broad brush. He tossed in a couple of trite remarks about how much he supposedly appreciated teachers, but in truth he was insulting teachers, since teachers are the heart and soul of the very public schools he was condemning.
Yes, some schools – particularly in low-income neighborhoods – and struggling, and they are struggling because the legislators at the head of the voucher movement refuse to begin work on an adequate and fair method of state education funding. Nor, do they care much about providing low-income families with the health care and other support services so important to the educational climate for children, the vast majority of whom will remain in public schools, with or without vouchers.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the chief voucher advocate in Austin, has made a career of advocating and voting for budget cuts, just as Gramm, when he was in Washington, prided himself on battling government spending.
Now, they want to divert tax dollars from public schools to a handful of kids attending private schools and then proclaim themselves champions of education. Hogwash.