Some of the most misused terms coming out of the Texas Capitol are education reform,school choice and parental choice.
The lieutenant governor frequently uses these buzz words for privatization schemes that have nothing to do with improving public education.
These “choice” schemes take on a number of forms: vouchers, tax-credit scholarships and, now, education savings accounts.
They share a fatal flaw: They would take tax dollars from underfunded public schools that educate the vast majority of Texas school children and hand them to a handful of families to pursue private educational options with little or no accountability.
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Proponents say education savings accounts, or ESAs, would allow parents to “customize” their children’s education by subsidizing private school tuition, charter school expenses or paying for home-school materials.
An ESA is an entitlement, a voucher in a see-through disguise.
We have no problem with private schools, but taxpayers shouldn’t subsidize a tuition payment.
The Constitution requires the Legislature to support an “efficient system of public free schools.”
Although the Texas Supreme Court has declared the school funding system constitutional, serious issues of adequacy and equity remain for Texas’ 5.2 million public school students, most of whom would never see a voucher or an ESA.
Texas spends about $2,700 less per student than the national average. And as Texas enrollment grows by about 80,000 a year, many school districts are still trying to recover from $5.4 billion in school budget cuts imposed in 2011.
When many Texas children come to school, they face challenges that impact their ability to succeed in the classroom.
About 60 percent are low-income, many don’t speak English and many deal with the effects of poor nutrition and inadequate healthcare. These challenges aren’t going to be addressed by vouchers or ESAs.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who voted for the 2011 budget cuts, is the biggest cheerleader for vouchers in Texas. He says they would help disadvantaged kids.
But even with vouchers, most low-income families wouldn’t have a choice because they still couldn’t afford tuition at the best private schools, and diverting education funds would further undermine their neighborhood public schools.
Previous voucher proposals have failed, but now President-elect Donald Trump may make federal education funding contingent on whether a state has a voucher program.
Such federal control would undermine the Every Student Succeeds Act, which gives states more control over educational policies.
Voucher advocates contend that when a voucher student leaves a public school, the school won’t need the money for that student and no harm will be done.
But that ignores the significant fixed costs — buses, bus routes, utilities, personnel — a district can’t proportionately reduce when a few students leave.
Texans can’t afford two education systems, one public and one private.
The Texas Constitution created a public education system, and the Legislature must support it, not privatization schemes that pick winners and losers.
Legislators need to invest more resources in public schools to give every student an opportunity to succeed.
Noel Candelaria is president of the Texas State Teachers Association and a former special education teacher in the Ysleta Independent School District in El Paso.