Tax-paid vouchers for private schools have a shameful segregationist history in the United States. That’s how they got their start in the decades immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 school desegregation decision in Brown vs. Board of Education.
As a way of successfully evading that order for many years, states or local communities across the South established what came to be known as “segregation academies” and appropriated tax dollars to encourage white students to attend them instead of newly integrated public schools. Black children were not allowed to enroll in these restricted institutions.
By 1969, according to a report published several years ago by the Center for American Progress, more than 200 of these segregated private schools had been established across the South, and at least seven states – Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana –had voucher programs for white students. Tens of thousands of white students were enrolled in these academies as recently as the early 1970s before the federal courts eventually ended these programs.
That’s history, you may say. Surely, this kind of thing won’t happen now in Texas, not even if the Legislature were to grant Gov. Greg Abbott’s demands for a private school voucher program in the special legislative session Abbott is expected to call soon.
Maybe you better think again. Despite the Brown decision, many Texas public schools already are largely segregated by race because of geography and economics. And it doesn’t take much imagination to envision how vouchers could create even more segregation, particularly if Abbott were to convince the Legislature to enact the kind of voucher program he wants, one that favors upper-income, mostly white, students over lower-income kids of color.
During the regular session last spring, Abbott endorsed the voucher bill adopted by the Senate, which would have created taxpayer-funded education savings accounts worth $8,000 a year for students transferring from public to private schools. That bill died in the House. With annual tuition costs for the most popular private schools in Texas as high as $30,000 or more, $8,000 would be little more than a private-school subsidy for wealthy or middle-income families, many of whom could already pay their own way.
Most low-income families of color, meanwhile, would be unable to make up the difference in tuition and other private school costs, and their children would remain in under-funded public schools. And those public schools would become even more under-funded with the loss of state revenue to vouchers.
As billions of tax dollars more are spent on vouchers in subsequent years, the segregation would worsen, and the current Supreme Court majority could very well let it happen.