Putting school vouchers in backpacks


Unbelievable as it may seem, some readers of this blog occasionally take exception to my reasoned rhetoric – and to my view that we should give our public schools the resources they need to do their job instead of siphoning away our tax dollars for unproven school privatization schemes.

Many of these people call themselves education “reformers,” when, in fact, they are not trying to reform – or improve — public schools but, instead, are trying to capitalize on them. Folks, profit-making for a select few is not the purpose of our public education system.

A spokesman for Texas Families First (TFF), one of these education privatization groups, has taken exception to my previous blog posting, in which I outlined the many problems with HB300 by Rep. Jason Isaac of Dripping Springs. I also noted the absurdity of Isaac claiming to be a champion of education after voting to slash $5.4 billion from public school budgets two years ago and now trying to continue the demolition.

Isaac filed HB300, the so-called “Independent School District Bill,” on behalf of TFF, which wants to give parents more control over school choices for their children, even to the point of allowing school districts to ignore important, statewide education standards – including class size limits and teacher qualifications — and allowing parents to turn their schools – and tax dollars — over to for-profit, outside operators.

I doubt there was anything TFF liked about the previous blog posting, but the group’s spokesman objected specifically to my writing that HB300 includes a voucher of “last resort” provision. He said the bill doesn’t include such a provision and asked for a correction.

I have subsequently reviewed the 62-page bill and haven’t found any specific reference to the word, “voucher.”

But the bill would allow for “backpack funding.” That means state funds for school districts participating in the program would go with the students.  It parents were to turn over the management of their local school to a for-profit operator – and nothing I could find in the bill would prohibit that – the “backpack” money would amount to a taxpayer-paid voucher. And, that would be a transfer of public money to private hands.

Call it what you wish. It is not education reform. It is school privatization.


1 Comment

  • First, Mr. Robison makes a patently false statement about HB300 – “The bill also includes a voucher ‘of last resort.'” – in a recent blog post. Next, after reading the bill and realizing that he was wrong, he fails to correct his error in the post, as most reputable bloggers would. Then he writes the above post , failing to issue a mea culpa, instead alleging that another provision of the bill – the so-called “backpack funding” language – is in reality a voucher, or privatization.

    This sort of dissembling and disinformation is very disappointing.

    Mr. Robison wants more money for public schools. That is a perfectly legitimate position to hold. He maintains that Rep. Isaac voted against more funding, and is therefore is critical and suspicious of Rep. Isaac. From his perspective, that is understandable.

    But what he fails to recognize is that even people who disagree on FUNDING can agree on GOVERNANCE. HB300 is funding neutal; it does not increase or decrease revenues. It simply says that whatever the funding level established by the state, it should be allocated to students and follow them to whatever public school they attend. This concept is not privatization; it is fundamental fairness. If a family lives in a district and therefore pays taxes to that district, the money should follow the kid – what is commonly referred to as “backpack funding.”

    Now if that family decides to send their child to a school run by a high-performing charter operator like KIPP, YES, IDEA, etc., by Mr. Robison’s definition that is privatization because they are private non-profit organizations. But this shows that the “privatization” label is all but meaningless when applied to HB300. All school management organizations – whether districts, charters, or some other form (such as a municipal school, which would, for instance, greatly simplify San Antonio Mayot Castro’s pre-K initiative by allowing the city to run a school) – must have a state-approved accountability plan. And the notion that families would rush to bring in for-profit operators is ludicrous.

    There are advocates of HB300 from both parties, from teachers, principals, administrators, and school board members, in both rural and urban settings, and on both sides of the school finance debate.

    Perhaps that is why Mr Robison continues to be perplexed by HB300 – it doesn’t fall into the neat categories that he is paid to promote and sustain. But those categories fail to properly define the challenges facing public education. People continue to talk past each other on most issues, and just fight it out over money.

    Yes, the money debate is important, but it is not the ONLY important debate, and it has nothing to do with HB300. What HB300 attempts to do is unleash the immense talent that exists within the education profession by providing another option for families and local educators, one that they are not forced into, but if they choose to embrace gives them the control they have earned, and deserve.

    I encourage Mr. Robison to think about the bill holistically. HB300 would allow opting-in districts to have autonomy over curriculum (removing SBOEs influence over curriculum), assessment (ending Pearson’s state testing monopoly), calendar (allowing more flexible school year start and finish dates), teacher development (ending the trend toward statewide, centralized teacher evaluation and merit pay), and a host of other educator-friendly and family-friendly policies. Yes, there are parts he may dislike, but they good far outweighs the bad.

    We have to change the conversation around public education policy. The current fight is like trench warfare in World War I – no progress, lots of victims, and suppliers to the troops getting richer by the minute.

    HB300 is an attempt at such a change. It is not part of some vast right-wing conspiracy. It was developed by educators, so there is a LOT that educators will like. And is a serious proposal, so it deserves more thoughtful analysis and less emotional demagoguery


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