School vouchers: A slippery slope

Steve Nash
Brownwood Bulletin
Glenn Rogers

Glenn Rogers is a member of the House District 60 in the Texas Legislature.

The right of every child to a safe, secure, and quality education has been a core value of Texas since our independence. Following our independence in 1836, Texas has had six different constitutions, with the current Texas Constitution being amended almost 700 times since 1876.

Nevertheless, throughout decades of revision, secession, and reconstruction, our state has never wavered from its promise to provide education to every Texan. Our founders believed that this promise was essential to securing the posterity of our state from generation to generation; however, almost a century and a half later, this value is under attack.

Under the guise of promoting choice, proposed “school voucher” programs are a trojan horse attempt to privatize Texas’ education system, and drain our already underfunded public education of necessary resources for millions of children.

You might ask, “What is an educational voucher?” A voucher program is a policy of diverting state and taxpayer resources marked for education to private entities. Generally, this system is found in three varieties: (1) A “universal voucher” system where the state applies a flat rate per student towards the tuition of a private or charter school, (2) A “personal tax credit” where the state government applies a flat rate reimbursement for tuition to a private school, or (3) A “corporate tax credit” where the taxpayers reimburse corporations or individuals who donate to private education funds.

Proponents of this system try to claim that children are “trapped in the public education system they were raised in.” This is, quite frankly, a lie. Texas already has one of the most robust “school choice” systems for parents in the nation. Between open-enrollment public schools, private schools, charter schools, homeschools, and online learning, parents have plenty of available options to place their child wherever they see fit. Vouchers do not increase the number of choices available to a parent; they only serve to finance these institutions with taxpayer money.

A common myth about vouchers is that they cover the entire cost of private or charter education. A voucher is a flat rate that pays for a small portion of tuition. The family is then expected to cover the remaining cost out of pocket ─ an impossible task for many low to middle-income families. The average cost of a private school in Texas is over $10,000 per student per year.

Additionally, attending private school may require substantially more financial resources to actively participate in the private school culture. The high end of a voucher program may only offer parents $4,000 towards tuition. This means that families who want to exercise their vouchers are still expected to pay at least $6,000 per child to enroll them in a private school.

The end result is that the majority of Texas families remain in public schools with less funding, whereas more wealthy families who can afford private education outright get a taxpayer-subsidized discount. The same principle is also true with acceptance standards. Even though a parent has an educational voucher, this does not mean a private or charter school must accept their child.

Private schools have the discretion to not admit any student based on academic performance, behavioral issues, disability, residence, or income level. Once again, the majority of Texas parents would be forced to keep their children in the public school system that is continually stripped of resources to subsidize education to allow for those who already have the ability to pay and be accepted.

Considering these schools are private or charter, the State of Texas would be funneling money into organizations with little accountability. Private schools do not have to comply with the same transparency standards as a traditional public education. Once these private entities start receiving public funds, the line between private and government regulation begins to blur.

Parents who choose private or homeschool education for their children expect a certain level of independence in their education. School boards members are elected and held accountable by the ISD residents, the salaries of superintendents are made a public record by the Texas Education Agency, and all instructional materials are reviewed by an elected State Board of Education. Voucher programs would destroy that independence and create a less transparent education system.

When problems arise within our public schools, the taxpayers and the state have the ability to act. In the 86th Legislative Session, the Texas House passed House Bill 3, which provided sweeping reforms to our education system. During the 87th session, the legislature passed House Bill 1525, which corrected several of the financing problems within our public schools. The legislature also approved Senate Bill 3, banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory in K-12 classrooms and House Bill 25 to prevent biological males competing in women’s sports. These conservative victories would not have been possible without an education system that is accountable and transparent at all levels of government.

Granted, recent controversies surrounding public education in some metropolitan areas have dampened the spirit for this vital institution. However, as Texans, it is better that we handle the problems out in the open and not masked behind private authority. As a parent of a high school daughter, I know, firsthand, the desire to make sure she has the best education afforded to her. I believe there is a need for public, private, home, and charter schools to allow parents the choice to select the type of education that works best for their children. Yet, in order to maintain this balance, we cannot embrace changes that will make our education system less accountable and less than what our founders had intended. Vouchers can only be implemented by raising property taxes and/or defunding our public schools. Neither of these should be acceptable to Texans.