This is a short tale about vouchers and economists, one economist with an overactive imagination and little knowledge of public schools and the other with a more-grounded view of the financial and political realities of public education in Texas.
You may not recall, but at the beginning of the 2015 legislative session, Arthur Laffer, the economist with the sky’s-the-limit imagination, issued a report all-but- equating the potential magnitude of private school vouchers with the discovery of penicillin, the development of the internal combustion engine and space travel.
All the Legislature had to do was approve vouchers, take tax dollars from under-funded public schools to pay for them, and education in Texas would very soon become the envy of the nation. The “competition” forced on public schools would inspire would-be dropouts to greatness, create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and set the Texas economy soaring to stratospheric heights.
I am not sure that even the most-determined voucher advocates believed him, but they nevertheless trotted him out at a news conference to promote their cause, which ultimately failed for the umpteenth time because many legislators didn’t believe him.
Now, with the 2017 legislative session looming, voucher advocates are trying again – for the umpteenth-plus-one time – to foist their very bad idea upon the school children and taxpayers of Texas. I don’t know if they will again enlist Laffer to promote their education savings accounts, tax credit scholarships and whatever else they will be calling vouchers this time around.
But another economist – one with his feet on the ground and his conclusions based in reality — already has chimed in. In an oped that ran in some newspapers over the weekend, economist M. Ray Perryman discussed arguments for and against vouchers and concluded they are not a good idea for Texas, at least not as long as the legislative majority continues to under-fund the public school system.
In his oped, linked below, Perryman points out that the “school voucher and ESA (education savings account) proposals in Texas appear to be nothing more than an attempt to save tax dollars (by providing less than the cost of education while removing a student from the public system) and to further drain the public schools of resources.”
He refutes the argument by voucher supporters that schools will need less money if students take vouchers (and tax dollars) and leave to enroll in private schools. Many of a school district’s operating expenses, he notes, are fixed costs – including teachers, bus drivers and other staffers – that can’t be proportionately reduced everytime a student leaves.
Perryman also points out that many students with the greatest needs wouldn’t benefit from vouchers because their families still couldn’t afford the tuition at many private schools.
“In essence, the (voucher) plans would likely have the effect of reducing educational funding and quality in the public school system which must provide opportunities for the vast majority of Texas children,” he writes. “Competition to improve an excellent (school) system is laudatory; competition as a code word to further deteriorate a chronically underfunded system that is leaving our future workforce behind is not.”