Latest voucher bill still a bad idea


By tightening up on their legislation a bit, private school voucher advocates are trying to convince us that they really do want to help low-income children. But the facts remain the same. Few poor families, if any, would benefit from vouchers, but opportunistic business people eager to get their hands on some tax dollars would be lining up at the trough.

SB276, the original voucher bill by Sen. Donna Campbell, was wide-open in that it set no income restraints for a voucher recipient. It has been supplanted now by SB4 by Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor, who is carrying all of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s bad education privatization ideas – and there are a lot of them.

Both SB4 and SB276 are scheduled for a hearing tomorrow before the Senate Education Committee, but SB4 is the voucher bill “blessed” by the lieutenant governor. TSTA and other public education advocates oppose both.

SB4 would restrict most voucher recipients to children from families with incomes within 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines, but it also would let a first-grade or kindergarten student receive a voucher regardless of family income. The maximum voucher per child would be about $7,000 per year under the bill’s limit.

That’s about the average price of tuition for a private elementary school in Texas but almost $2,000 a year less than the average tuition for a private high school. Even most of the average-priced private schools, though, would remain out of reach of families from low-income neighborhoods because most private schools don’t provide transportation and wouldn’t be required to under either voucher bill.

More significantly, the best private schools in Texas charge $26,000 or more a year in tuition, keeping them way out of reach of low-income families, even those armed with a voucher. But the vouchers would siphon funding from the neighborhood public schools that the children will continue to attend.

SB4 also would create tax credits for businesses and other organizations that contribute money for vouchers in the form of “scholarships.” This is still a voucher, folks, and the tax credits would still reduce funding that should be spent on public schools, where the vast majority of Texas children will continue to be educated.

Good private schools don’t need to swell their enrollments with tax-paid vouchers. Most of these schools pride themselves on small classes and already have waiting lists.

But vouchers would spur the creation of a bunch of fly-by-night private “schools” eager to take vouchers (your tax dollars), under-pay teachers and take their chances that an under-funded Texas Education Agency would be unable to shut them down.

Many of these alleged “schools” would be little more than storefronts with substandard facilities, under-equipped classrooms and your tax dollars enriching the latest education privateers.




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