The Texas Legislature should invest in our schools, our teachers and our 5.4 million public school students. Texas school and state leaders must address the ongoing teacher shortage and record inflation, and also fight back against well-funded attacks on our public schools. Texas lawmakers must roundly reject efforts to divert public funds for education savings accounts or vouchers.
School vouchers, also known as education savings accounts (ESAs), have been a focal point this session and a priority for some state leaders. ESAs must be rejected.
Current bills are linked to phrases such as education freedom and parent’s choice, but vouchers and ESAs do not offer freedom without a price, and they are not always delivering “a parent’s choice.” Instead, the choice is the private school’s choice and they are not required to choose all kids who apply.
“The policy and outcomes are the same regardless of the name. School vouchers – or ESAs – divert public funds to private schools and for-profit vendors.”
There are a lot of different names for school vouchers, but the policy and outcomes are the same regardless of the name. School vouchers – or ESAs – divert public funds to private schools and for-profit vendors.
Vouchers drain public school dollars
For nearly two decades, advocates for “school choice” and vouchers have pressed state leaders to use taxpayer dollars to fund private education.
The last failed voucher bill in Texas in 2021 would have targeted only 22,000 students, but would have diverted an estimated $340 million per year from Texas public schools. The program was anticipated to double in size over a few years. The loss of that funding for public education would have meant cutting much-needed salary and retirement increases for teachers and staff. Support programs, accelerated learning, extracurricular activities and the expansion of pre-kindergarten would also be on the chopping block.
“For each student leaving a Texas public school, a campus would lose about $10,000 in state and local funding. Yet, the fixed costs of running a school do not change when that student departs.”
Proponents of school vouchers say tax dollars should follow the student, not fund the system. Education funding in Texas is already tied to the student, because the Texas funding formulas are based on students’ attendance rates. A public education system delivers accountability and transparency for how these taxpayer dollars are spent, a safeguard not found in any voucher program or the private schools and for-profit programs they fund.
For each student leaving a Texas public school, a campus would lose about $10,000 in state and local funding. Yet, the fixed costs of running a school do not change when that student departs. So, the equivalent of four to five students leaving for a private school under an ESA program could deeply impact teacher salaries, class sizes and student enrichment programming like sports, music, art and electives. These impacts would be especially acute in non-urban and rural communities, where smaller campuses leave districts with less room in their budgets to protect their campuses from the potential financial impact of families accepting vouchers.
Vouchers subsidize wealthy families
The fact is vouchers do not cover the cost of most private education, leaving parents to cover the difference. The national average tuition for private school is more than $12,000 per year. While voucher proposals in Texas vary in size, none cover this full amount.
The people who benefit most from school vouchers are students already attending private schools. In states like Arizona, New Hampshire and Wisconsin, anywhere from 75% to 89% of the students using vouchers already attended a private school.
Vouchers hurt students
Private schools are not obligated to accept or serve all students. For example, children with physical, mental or learning disabilities may not have access to the services they need in a private school setting. Public schools, on the other hand, are federally required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to provide free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to eligible students ages 3-21. Furthermore, IDEA provides legal protections for these students and their parents in cases where public schools fail to provide adequate services. Children in private schools are not entitled to these protections.
A wide body of research casts doubts and provides data that rejects voucher advocates’ claims of improved student outcomes. According to recent research, states with established voucher programs (e.g., Indiana, Louisiana and Ohio) show that students enrolled in voucher programs have reduced scores on math state assessments.
Indiana University researcher Christopher Lubienski found that accounting for demographics, public schools perform better than private schools. Additionally, a University of Virginia study found that private school enrollment provided no additional benefits to low-income children in urban settings by simply controlling for sociodemographic characteristics.
School choice and parents’ rights already exist
With Texas public schools educating 90% of the K-12 student population in the state, today’s public schools and public charter schools deliver wide-ranging choice to students through speciality programs, including magnet programs, early college high schools, and transfers within and across districts.
Now is the time for Texas lawmakers to support public schools, not education savings accounts. Our students, our local schools and our taxpayers deserve better. It’s time to invest in public education and reject any moves to use taxpayer dollars to fund private schools and vendors.