Another bad voucher idea: letting the “market” determine school funding


Many bad ideas in the political arena never really go away. They get resurrected, often under different names. Private school voucher proponents have resorted to a number of euphemisms, including “school choice,” “tax credit scholarships,” and “education savings accounts,” a term that the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) is now trying to peddle.

In case you are not familiar with this libertarian-leaning group, TPPF wants to underfund most of state government, including education, and then privatize what’s left. Let the free market work for those Texans who are fortunate enough or wealthy enough to profit from the ride, and the heck with just about everyone else. That is not their public message, of course, but that would be the net effect, including as it would apply to educational opportunities for Texas children.

According to the Texas Observer article by Patrick Michels, linked below, TPPF has published a new report concluding that it is “fruitless” for the Legislature to continue debating how much more money it may cost to provide an adequate education for all students, now 5.2 million and growing. One of the co-authors is Kent Grusendorf, a long-time voucher advocate and former chairman of the House Public Education Committee.

In the current school finance lawsuit, a state district judge has ruled the state should spend a lot more money to create an adequate, equitable and constitutional school finance system, but that ruling is being reviewed by the Texas Supreme Court.

Instead of spending more money on schools, TPPF is proposing that parents be given tax-paid “education savings accounts” (vouchers) to improve their choice of schools for their children.

In TPPF’s view, Michels writes, “The only way to know what education should cost…is to privatize it and see what people are willing to pay. Kids could pick the schools that rise to the challenge, and the schools with no students would close.”

He adds, “Things might get a little messy for the last kids left at those failing neighborhood schools, but they’d realize their mistake soon enough.”

Michels correctly points out a number of problems with TPPF’s alleged “parent empowerment” theory. Some parents may be poor judges of what makes a good school, they may let community loyalty adversely affect their judgment and “market forces don’t always address things like shared social values, evidence-based science and history theory, or even career readiness skills.”

I also would point out that many low-income parents, even with vouchers, would be unable to afford the entire tuition or the transportation necessary to send their children to good private schools.

This “free market” theory of funding public education is baloney. Regardless of what the Texas Supreme Court rules, the Legislature needs to trash all voucher proposals and adequately and fairly fund every public school in every neighborhood in Texas. They can make the effort to figure out how much they need to budget.





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