The Texas Tribune recently reported a Texas legislator promoting vouchers as a way the state could give taxpayers their money back if they move their children from public to private school.
“I had a superintendent yesterday tell me, ‘How can you support public dollars going into private schools?’ And I said, ‘I just don’t agree with the premise of your question because it is parents’ dollars to begin with,’” the lawmaker said.
Other voucher advocates are making similar arguments, denying the reality that taking tax dollars to benefit private schools will damage public education. They deny or distort the principle that taxation in our country is how we provide for the public good through access to such common necessities as national defense, law enforcement, fire protection and public education.
Most people never experience a house fire, but if they live in a city, they pay taxes to maintain a professional fire department. And we don’t pay bounties for law enforcement. We pay taxes.
It took us a long while to get here, including years of primitive, patchwork educational opportunities as our country was developing and the segregated schools, including many supported by vouchers, that aren’t as far behind us as many people would like to think.
But our public schools have become one of the most important parts of our country’s foundation. They have done more than anything to produce the inventions and other instruments of our progress as well as millions of individual success stories. Every taxpayer, including private school parents and people who never have children, contribute to public education because we all benefit from the technological improvements, cultural advancements, more-educated workforce and higher standard of living our public schools have made and continue to make possible.
Tax dollars spent for public education are not “my” dollars, “your” dollars or “their” dollars. They are public dollars raised for a public good, an essential, life-changing public service that is available, tuition-free, to every child who lives in a school district, regardless of color, family income or any other demographic descriptor.
The drafters of the Texas Constitution recognized the importance of education when they required state leaders to provide for a system of free public schools.
Now, we have a state leadership that is trying to destroy all that. For years, this leadership has deliberately underfunded public schools and the health care and other support services that more than half of the public school enrollment needs. It is difficult, even impossible, for sick and malnourished children to perform well in a classroom.
The same leadership also administers a punitive, counterproductive testing system that wastes millions of additional educational dollars every year, while mounting political attacks on teachers for teaching uncomfortable truths about our history and culture and for celebrating diversity in their classrooms.
Now, Gov. Greg Abbott and his legislative allies want to starve public schools even more – and further weaken our democracy — by diverting state funds to unregulated and unaccountable private schools.
The education savings account, or voucher, bill approved by the Senate last week may start with a $500 million price tag, but within a few years it will balloon to untold billions of taxpayer dollars being lost to Texas public education.
The governor and other voucher advocates claim that all they are trying to do is give parents the “choice” of a private school if they think that is better for their children. What they really are doing is trying to please wealthy campaign contributors who want to use tax dollars to underwrite private schools, including religious schools that provide the more-selective kind of ideological instruction they want to give more Texas children.
If some parents want to spend their own money to send their children to private or religious schools, that is their right. But the taxpayer-funded vouchers that Abbott is trying to give them are not their money. It is our money, public money that will forever be lost to public education and millions of other school children who need it.