Whatever you call it, a voucher is a voucher

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a big driver of Gov. Greg Abbott’s voucher mania, is now claiming that an educational savings account (or ESA), the form of voucher that Abbott and the Senate tried to ram through the regular legislative session last spring, is not a voucher.

According to TPPF, here is what distinguishes an ESA from a voucher:

A voucher allows state education dollars to “follow the child,” enabling parents to receive tax funds to pay tuition at private schools.

An ESA puts state tax dollars into personal education accounts that parents can use to pay for “tuition at public schools, private schools or other accredited institutions. They can buy books and other educational materials and receive specialized tutoring.”

Only a school privatization group like TPPF would claim a real difference here. Unless there are rare, special circumstances, such as nonresident transfers between school districts, public schools don’t charge tuition. And as long as an ESA allows a parent to use tax dollars to pay tuition and expenses at private schools, as Senate Bill 8 from the regular session would have done, an ESA is a voucher.

The clear purpose of Senate Bill 8, which died because of strong, bipartisan opposition in the House, was to create ESAs to give public school students as much as $8,000 a year in tax money to transfer to private schools at a taxpayer cost that would have reached $1 billion a year within a few years.

Abbott supported that bill, and we may very well see another ESA bill as the voucher bill of choice during the upcoming special session. Anything that takes tax dollars to pay for private education expenses is a voucher. Period. That also includes educational opportunity scholarships, which give tax credits to people or businesses contributing to them and then are awarded to students to attend private schools.

TPPF claims that voucher opponents who correctly use the terms, voucher and education savings account, interchangeably are being “disingenuous,” suggesting we are trying to confuse taxpayers because some polls indicate there is less public opposition to something called an education savings account than to vouchers.

Calling a rattlesnake a long salamander with a noisy tail may make it sound less harmful to some people, but it is still a rattlesnake. Some people are being disingenuous here, but they are not voucher opponents.

Clay Robison


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