Author: suem

A wake-up call for voters who truly value their public schools

School voucher advocates are already proclaiming victory when the new Texas Legislature meets next year, and with six anti-voucher Republican House members unseated in last week’s primary and four others headed to a runoff, it is clear the fight against vouchers – although not over — has become more difficult.

What is not so clear is whether vouchers had much to do with the election results. It seems more likely many anti-voucher voters were misled by millions of dollars’ worth of lies.

Gov. Greg Abbott and his school privatization allies mounted aggressive campaigns against the Republicans who helped kill last year’s voucher plan, but they didn’t openly make vouchers an issue. Instead, they used attack ads to spread falsehoods accusing targeted lawmakers of being soft on border security and killing a bill that would have increased funding for public schools and raised teacher pay.

The lies worked, even though the targeted Republicans voted for all the border security initiatives that Abbott demanded and would have voted for more funding for public education if Abbott had given them the chance. Instead, the funding bill was lost because the governor made clear he would veto it if he didn’t win a voucher plan for spending millions of dollars on private schools.

Abbott let the budget bill die during last year’s critical final special session after the legislators he attacked had removed vouchers from the measure. As a result of Abbott’s pique, many school districts are cutting budgets and operating with deficits, even though the state had a $33 billion budget surplus.

Abbott vowed to unseat the lawmakers because they voted against vouchers, but he and his allies dared not attack them head-on over vouchers because of long-standing opposition to vouchers among the legislators’ mostly rural constituents.

Voucher advocates claim that the large margin with which a non-binding referendum backing vouchers was approved in last week’s Republican primary is further proof voucher opposition is dwindling among rural Republicans, but it’s all in the wording.

The ballot proposition read: “Texas parents and guardians should have the right to select schools, whether public or private, for their children, and the funding should follow the student.”

Something more to the point, such as “Do you support taking hundreds of millions of your tax dollars from your public schools and sending them to unregulated private schools?”, would have had a much different response.

Some of Abbott’s voucher targets also were targeted by Attorney General Ken Paxton and his right-wing billionaire supporters for voting for Paxton’s impeachment.

It will be a while before we find out if the pro-voucher celebration is premature. Four of the anti-voucher legislators will be in a runoff in May, and many of the GOP primary victors will face Democratic opposition in November. If the anti-voucher Republicans who voted against their like-minded state representatives in the primary figure out the governor’s game, and if the anti-voucher Republicans who stayed home last week vote against vouchers in November, anti-voucher Democrats may be able to pick off a few pro-voucher Republicans, although Texas’ political maps make that a difficult proposition.

The public school district is at the heart – and is often the biggest employer – in many rural communities, and vouchers could eventually destroy some of the smaller school districts – which are already underfunded — or force consolidation among districts.

Voters in most of those communities are overwhelmingly Republican. But if last week’s results in their party primary aren’t a wake-up call for voters who truly value their public schools, I don’t know what is.

Clay Robison

There is no such thing as a modest school voucher program

A Texas newspaper recently published an editorial acknowledging that Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick should “draw most of the fire” for failing to increase public education funding last year, leaving school districts with serious budgetary problems, including deficits and layoffs.

But the editorial said educators also were partly to blame for “refusing to budge over a modest school voucher pilot program.”

The reference, of course, was to the public education community’s unwavering opposition to spending tax dollars on private school vouchers, even though Abbott had vowed not to increase public school funding without them. And he didn’t, despite his constitutional duty to support free public schools.

Despite what the editorial claimed, the governor and other voucher advocates never intended to pass a pilot voucher program. I don’t recall the governor ever mentioning a pilot program. He intended (and still does intend) to pass a permanent voucher program, a program whose drain on tax dollars would continue to grow.

Even if you want to claim that Abbott’s education savings account (or voucher) plan from last year would have been initially “modest,” it wouldn’t have stayed that way.

The Legislative Budget Board estimated the voucher program, had it passed, would have cost taxpayers $461 million in fiscal 2025, ballooning to $2.3 billion by 2028. Many of the voucher recipients would have been kids who had already been attending private schools, including some from upper- or middle-income families receiving taxpayer-paid subsidies for tuition they already could afford.

Last year’s failed voucher program would have given priority to children from low-income families and kids with disabilities, but the program would not have been limited to them because Abbott demanded a wide-open program, a wide-open raid on tax dollars for unregulated private schools. In any event, the $10,500 voucher per year wouldn’t have been enough for many low-income families to pay the full tuition and fees at many private schools. And many private schools don’t accept children with disabilities or other special needs.

Meanwhile, the cost of the program would have continued to grow, until it was costing taxpayers – and public schools – untold billions of dollars a year.

This pattern of increasing voucher expenditures – at the expense of public schools – has been documented in several states with existing voucher programs.

According to a report, linked at the end of this post, by Public Funds Public Schools, seven states with some of the longer records with vouchers have seen substantial increases in state funding for vouchers over the years as funding for public schools has declined.

Public Funds Public Schools is a partnership between the Education Law Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Examples in the report, released last year, include:

  • Florida – This state, like some other states, has multiple voucher programs, and spending on three of the oldest programs increased by 313 percent between 2008-2019, while per-pupil funding for public education was cut by 12 percent.
  • Arizona –Increased spending on voucher programs by 270 percent between 2008-2019, while cutting per-pupil spending for public education by 5.7 percent.
  • Georgia – Increased spending on vouchers by 883 percent between 2009-2019, while cutting per-pupil spending on public schools by 1.9 percent.
  • Indiana – Increased voucher spending by 796 percent between 2012-2019 and cut per-pupil spending on public education by 1.5 percent.
  • Public school advocates understand they must kill voucher programs before they have a chance to get a chokehold on the state education budget and kill the public education system. We have seen what already is happening with charter schools.

The charters began rather modestly, but now they are beginning to strangle traditional public schools in Texas. There are hundreds of them with more campuses being approved every year. Many of these charters are not needed and don’t perform any better – often worse – than the neighborhood public schools from which they are now taking $4 billion a year. And that raid on tax dollars continues to grow, while average per-pupil funding for Texas public schools is more than $4,000 a year less than the national average. Read more.

Clay Robison

The voucher predators are still lying. Is anyone surprised?

To no one’s surprise, Gov. Greg Abbott and the pro-voucher crowd are spreading lies in their multimillion-dollar campaign to unseat Republican members of the Texas House who joined with Democrats to kill Abbott’s voucher initiative last fall.

Their assault in Republican primary races around the state include TV ads and similar attacks falsely accusing the anti-voucher lawmakers of killing a bill that would have increased public school funding and paid for teacher pay raises. They didn’t kill that bill. They simply voted to successfully remove a voucher program from it.

The person who really killed the bill was Abbott. After the voucher provision was removed, the remaining provisions in the bill never came to a vote because the governor had made it clear he wouldn’t approve the much-needed funding for public schools, educators and students without getting his way on vouchers for private schools.

You can call the ad, sponsored by a pro-voucher group called the Family Empowerment Coalition, misleading, as some media outlets are doing, but, really, it’s a lie.

Moreover, a leader of the Family Empowerment Coalition has been quoted as saying voucher advocates were trying to pass a limited voucher program “that would have served 1 percent of kids, all poor.”

This statement also ignores the truth.

The voucher proposal that died would not have been limited to low-income children, and the vouchers that would have offered $8,000 per year per student would not have come close to covering annual tuition payments and fees required by many of the states’ private schools. “Poor kids” and their families would not have been able to pay the difference, but many middle- and upper-income families would have jumped at the chance to receive a state subsidy for private school expenses they could already afford.

The governor’s campaign to unseat voucher opponents is not about “poor kids.” It’s about making super-wealthy campaign donors and school privatization advocates happy.

The so-called “limited” voucher program, had it been enacted, would have cost Texas taxpayers more than $2 billion a year within a few years, the Legislative Budget Board calculated. And that cost would have kept rising with billions of tax dollars going to private schools each year while public schools remained under-funded and in danger of shutting their doors.

The anti-voucher Republican lawmakers and their Democratic colleagues voted to protect their local public schools from predators, and that’s the truth.

Clay Robison

Greg Abbott: A disaster for education

If anyone ever tells you that Gov. Abbott cares a whit about the school children of Texas, try not to laugh. Or cry. Or question their intelligence.

Just consider them uninformed, misinformed or simply in a state of denial.

It’s bad enough that Abbott is now campaigning against a group of Texas House members from his own party for trying to protect their public schools, something their constituents sent them to Austin to do. In a fit of political pique, the governor also intentionally left public school districts woefully underfunded, and the problem will worsen.

As you probably know, the House members targeted by the governor voted during a special session in November against the governor’s private school voucher priority. Had this plan passed, it would eventually have sent billions of Texas tax dollars each year to unregulated private schools, endangering the continued existence of our under-funded public education system and the futures of the children it serves.

After voting successfully with the House majority for an amendment that removed the voucher language from a broader public education bill, these legislators were prepared to vote for other provisions in the bill, including increased funding for public schools and teacher pay raises.

But the bill’s sponsor pulled the rest of the bill down and let it die as the last special session of 2023 came to an end.

Abbott had made it clear he was holding public schools hostage to his voucher priority, and when vouchers failed, so did much-need additional funding for public schools as well.

Now, some of Abbott’s pro-voucher allies – who may be receiving funding from the governor’s political account — are falsely telling Republican primary voters that the lawmakers who voted against vouchers also voted against public school funding. That is a lie.

Because of Abbott’s failure to support more funding for public education – even when the state had a record, $33 billion budget surplus – many school districts are now operating on deficit budgets that school boards adopted last summer in anticipation of more state funding, which didn’t come. Some districts also have dipped into reserve funds to pay for much-needed pay raises for teachers and support staff.

Although districts also are still struggling with learning-loss fallout from the pandemic, the state’s basic allotment of $6,160 per student hasn’t been increased since 2019, and school finance experts believed an increase of at least $1,000 was necessary last year to keep up with inflation alone. But the governor said no – not without vouchers.

The Legislature did enact some additional school funding for security measures, but it wasn’t enough to cover all the new state requirements.

With the next regular session of the Legislature not scheduled until next January and no special sessions anticipated this year, many school districts will have to adopt even-tighter budgets this summer for the 2024-25 school year. This will require additional difficult cuts, including jobs, affecting classrooms and other school programs.

Abbott hasn’t said much, if anything, about school budgets since the Legislature left Austin. But addressing the voucher fight, he said, “I am in it to win it.”

Greg Abbott is a disaster for public education.

Clay Robison