People who really value public education already knew that diverting education tax dollars to private school vouchers – aka education savings accounts, tax credit scholarships or “school choice” – is a bad idea that ultimately will harm public schools. Now, here is some new information about how bad the idea can be.
Taxpayers, students and educators in Wisconsin, the state with the longest-running voucher program, are paying dearly. On average, voucher students are getting more general state revenue than public school students and are scoring lower on proficiency tests.
During the 2015-16 school year, Wisconsin state government gave an average $7,353 in tax revenue to each voucher student attending a private school. This figure from the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau was based on the percentage of full-time equivalent students in the Milwaukee, Racine and statewide voucher programs enrolled in grades K-12.
By contrast, the average student enrolled in a public school received $5,108 in general state aid.
Clearly, Wisconsin – under the short-sighted, anti-public service administration of Gov. Scott Walker – is short-changing its public school students. But they still are scoring, as a whole, significantly better than voucher students on standardized tests.
The scores weren’t even close on the first administration of the new Wisconsin Forward Exam, which debuted last spring. It is that state’s version of our STAAR.
According to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, 42.5 percent of public school students scored proficient or better in English language arts, compared to only 19.1 percent of voucher students. Some 42.3 percent of public school students were proficient or better in math, compared to only 14 percent of voucher students. And 50.1 percent of public school students were proficient or better in science, compared to 21.6 percent of voucher students.
Yet, here in Texas, vouchers are one of many bad ideas that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick refuses to quit peddling. He doubled down after most members of the House Public Education Committee renewed their hostility to them in a public hearing last week.
Patrick would rather waste time and rhetoric on so-called “school choice” and other gimmicks than give public schools and their students what they really need – an adequate and fair funding system that gives all children an opportunity to succeed in the classroom and beyond.
That includes the low-income children for whom Patrick claims to advocate but who suffered the most when he voted to slash $5.4 billion from school budgets in 2011.
Now, while many school districts are still struggling with overcrowded classrooms and other fallout from the cuts, Patrick wants to divert more money from them to benefit a handful of families with grants of tax money to spend on private school tuition or home-school expenses. This isn’t “choice.” This is cherry-picking.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of school kids will continue to be educated in public schools that Patrick continues to short-change.
Patrick also repeated the erroneous argument that vouchers won’t hurt public schools because when a student takes a voucher and leaves, the school won’t need the money. Baloney.
There are set costs – buses, bus routes and utilities, to name a few – that can’t be proportionately reduced, and those costs are significant.
Texas taxpayers can’t afford to pay for two education systems, one public and one private. The state constitution allows for only a public education system – with no provisions for cherry-picking.