Did a school voucher pay for an abortion? Yes or no, it’s still a mess


The intended consequences of vouchers – transferring state tax dollars from under-funded public schools to private schools – are bad enough, but the unintended consequences can be a political and fiscal disaster. A voucher program in Arizona is so bad and unaccountable to taxpayers that one recipient was even indicted for using her family’s voucher money to purchase a high-definition TV and pay for an abortion.

For those who might point out that Texas isn’t Arizona, I also would point out that Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick share the school privatization ideology of the Arizona leaders who created and expanded the voucher debacle in the desert.

I also would note that the voucher program in Arizona began as a program limited to families with disabled children, the same kind of legislation that Abbott wants the Legislature to enact during the special session that convenes next week. The program later was expanded in Arizona, while oversight was ignored.

And anyone who thinks oversight in Texas would be any better had better think again. The under-funded oversight of critical public programs in this state – from Child Protective Services to toll roads, data systems and other privatization schemes – has a history of failure.

The Arizona Republic articles linked below detail much of the waste and folly associated with arming families with debit cards loaded with taxpayer dollars. Arizona has even been unable or unwilling to identify which private schools are benefiting the most from the tax-paid program.

“We could have state dollars going to a school teaching 2 plus 2 equals 5, and there is nothing that we can do about it,” one critic of the program commented.

It’s a wonder apparently that the state even noticed the woman who used her voucher debit card to buy the big-screen TV, as well as a smart phone and a couple of computer tablets, from Walmart and then spend a few hundred more dollars at a family planning clinic. That led to the accusation of an abortion and an indictment for theft and fraud.

I don’t know how that case turned out, but the voucher program in Arizona is still a mess. And it’s a mess waiting to happen in Texas, unless the House – which soundly rejected vouchers on a bipartisan vote during the regular session – continues to hold its ground for public schools and taxpayers.




His sanctimony aside, Dan Patrick is to blame for school finance failure


Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick waxed sanctimonious after the final defeat of the House’s effort to improve school funding but don’t be misled by his demagoguery. The blame for the school finance failure rests squarely with Patrick.

Speaker Joe Straus and the House majority tried to enact legislation to improve state funding for public schools and take an important first step toward real school finance reform. But Patrick was all about snooping in school bathrooms and trying to force the House into wasting tax dollars on private school vouchers, even after it was clear that a bipartisan House majority was adamantly opposed to vouchers. At the eleventh hour, Patrick had the Senate majority remove funding from the House’s version of HB21, the school finance bill, and attach a special education voucher instead. Then he blamed the House for killing school finance when House members called his bluff.

“I simply did not believe they (the House) would vote against both disabled children and a substantial funding increase for public schools,” he said. Hogwash.

Patrick’s “funding increase” claim was actually a billion dollar cut from the $1.6 billion the House had proposed. And his special education voucher amendment would have been useless for most special education kids because private schools don’t have to provide special education services and those that do are exempt from federal standards designed to make sure the services provided are appropriate.

The House actually had tried to improve funding for disabled kids and all other students by approving additional funding for public schools, but Patrick and the Senate majority killed that effort. That means public schools, including special education classrooms, will remain under-funded, and the burden on local school property taxpayers will continue to increase.

Whenever Dan Patrick opens his mouth about public education and property tax “relief,” he has absolutely no credibility. And the school children of Texas – all the school children of Texas – will be better off if their parents quit believing him.


Why vouchers leave special ed kids behind


In a last gasp attempt to revive school privatization before this legislative session ends, voucher advocates are offering to limit education savings accounts, or vouchers, to special education kids. But they are peddling false hope.

If this voucher proposal is enacted, it will do almost nothing to help the vast majority of special education children in Texas because most private schools, even with vouchers, are simply unprepared – or unwilling — to give these kids the services they need.

National Public Radio broadcast a story this week about the voucher program in Indiana, one of the country’s largest, which should serve as a warning to anyone who is attracted to these so-called “choice” alternatives.

In the first place, a voucher program doesn’t provide a real choice to most parents. The real choice, as the Indiana program shows, resides with the private schools. Many private schools in Indiana don’t accept voucher students, and most of those that do are religious schools. These schools, not the parents, decide which kids are admitted through a variety of entrance requirements, including grade point averages, entrance exams and even statements of faith – an uncomfortable, perhaps unconstitutional, mix of religion and tax dollars.

Kids with behavior problems need not apply, and in many private schools, most children with special needs are equally unwelcome.

Public schools admit all children with special needs because the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires them to. But the ADA doesn’t apply to private schools, and in Indiana, most private schools are shutting their doors to special education kids with vouchers because, even with tax dollars, they don’t have the resources or the interest to try to educate them.

According to the NPR report, more than 15 percent of the public school enrollment in Fort Wayne is in special education. The average special education rate at private voucher schools in Fort Wayne is 6.5 percent. In Indianapolis, 17 percent of the public school enrollment is in special education, while special education students account for only 7 percent of the enrollment in Indianapolis’ private voucher schools.

Those numbers are typical of Indiana as a whole, and there is no reason to think it would be any different in Texas.

“The gen ed (general education) student is in a private parochial school. The special ed student’s here (in public school),” said Wendy Robinson, the public school superintendent in Fort Wayne.

Yes, thousands of special education students in Texas have been denied the services to which they were entitled because of the arbitrary cap placed on special education enrollment by the Texas Education Agency several years ago. The cap was imposed because the legislative majority has refused to adequately fund Texas’ public schools.

If legislators really want to help special education children in Texas, they will improve public education funding, not try to deceive parents with a costly voucher program that would be worthless for most special education kids and most other students as well.


Senate did NOT protect any taxpayers from voucher bill


Sen. Charles Perry of Lubbock may think he fooled his constituents when he voted for a private school voucher bill that they don’t like. But the only person he may have outfoxed was himself.

Perry admitted that the voucher bill, Senate Bill 3, isn’t popular with rural residents of his district because they don’t see much benefit in taking tax dollars from their under-funded public schools so a small number of families somewhere else can spend that money with little accountability on private school tuition for their kids.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why. There aren’t many private schools for students in the Lubbock and surrounding rural area to attend, and transportation would be a problem. But bowing to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick over the preferences of his constituents, Perry voted for the bill anyway when it won Senate approval last week.

In an effort to provide himself some political cover, though, Perry agreed to support the bill only after it had been amended to prohibit students in counties with fewer than 285,000 residents from receiving vouchers. To make sure that Lubbock fell into the excluded rural category, Perry saw to it that the population count was based on the 2010 census, not the latest population estimates, because Lubbock has been growing.

By adopting this amendment, Perry claimed, he was sparing his constituents from a program they didn’t like. But guess what?

The amendment that keeps rural students from receiving vouchers won’t protect their parents and other rural taxpayers from paying taxes to send other people’s children to private schools in faraway Houston, Dallas or San Antonio, if the House also approves the voucher bill. State tax dollars from rural counties would pay for vouchers, just as tax dollars from cities would.

Perry’s constituents still will have to pay for a program they don’t want, even if their children can’t participate in it. And school funding for vouchers would be siphoned from Lubbock ISD and other rural districts as well as from urban and suburban districts throughout Texas.

“From a rural perspective, we don’t see a whole lot of benefit in it (a voucher program),” Perry admitted in an interview with the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

But he voted for it anyway.

What’s more, according to TSTA’s recent bipartisan poll, most urban and suburban voters of both parties don’t see much benefit in a voucher program either.

Let us hope House members do a better job of representing their constituents on the voucher bill – and bury it – than Perry and most of his Senate colleagues did.