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The opening argument against vouchers

We’ve been hearing about vouchers since Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst named Sen. Dan Patrick to be Chair of the Senate Education Committee, but we haven’t heard – or at least, I haven’t seen – a lot of information about what exactly that would mean. This Chron op-ed by Ronald Trowbridge brings some facts and figures and gives a starting point for engagement on the issue.

A new proposed model now under consideration in Texas is called Taxpayer Savings Grants (TSG). But this model is fatally flawed. First, very few students would be able to use the grants (vouchers) because private-school tuition balances are too expensive. Second, private schools would not have the capacity to enroll large increases in student admissions. Third, grants would also subsidize relatively wealthy students already attending private schools. Four, the model opens the possibility, if not probability, that government subsidies (vouchers) to private schools could come with controlling political strings attached.

Proponents of TSG argue that the public school system would save $3,000 for every student who transfers to a private school and that “just under 7 percent of students would take advantage” of a $5,143 voucher to attend a private school.

Let’s look at the arithmetic. The Texas Education Agency reports that public-school enrollment K-12 in Texas in 2010-11 was 4,933,617 students. Seven percent would total 345,353 students. Private-school enrollment in 2009, reports the National Center for Education Statistics, was 313,360. There is no way private schools would have the capacity to enroll 345,353 more students.

Meanwhile, students already attending private schools would also receive the same $5,143 voucher per student. For 313,360 students already attending private schools, the cost to state government would total $161 million a year.

Here’s another serious problem with TSG: The public student transferring to a private school must pay the difference between the $5,143 voucher and the full price of tuition at the private school. If tuition is, say, $12,000 per year, parents would have to come up with the $6,857 difference. Private-school tuition often runs in the range of $10,000 to $20,000.

What’s more, private schools will do precisely what colleges do when stipends for Pell grants are increased: raise tuition. So the private school will raise tuition to, say, $13,000, and parents will have to pay the difference between $5,143 and $13,000.

Most of the 345,353 students would be priced out of the market. What’s more, 2.9 million school kids are on subsidized-lunch programs. These kids could not even dream of attending a private school.

Trowbridge notes that government funding for something inevitably leads to government meddling in, of not control over, that something, the prospect of which you would think might give people like Dan Patrick pause. I’d add in the concern that this is all just a massive subsidy for religious schools, which will have all kinds of questionable things on their curricula, but only if their religion is of the approved kind. There’s also the question about whether these schools would be subject to the same accountability laws as the public schools, which I suppose also goes to Trowbridge’s point about government money coming with strings attached. I feel quite certain that a response from Sen. Patrick or one of his acolytes will be forthcoming, so we’ll see what they have to say about this.

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  1. JS says:

    What about homeschool, I have heard parents will get that 5K to keep their kids at home?

  2. JS says:

    Will the private schools then be required to accept anyone using the voucher? Will private schools be required to administer state test’s to graduate? Will private schools then be required to teach the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills instead of their curriculum? What about graduation requirements, will the 4×4 curriculum know be in place in private schools? How will you keep students from transfering enrollment within school districts or across district boundaries for athletic purposes? Does UIL have a stance on this? Will private school be rated under the state accountability standards if they accept tax dollars? What about accepting special education students, when they take the money are they not a state agency in effect? So many questions, I guess you have to vote on it before you can know whats in it?

  3. BE says:

    I am not saying whether I am for or against vouchers, as a private school administrator who spent 20 years in public education, I probably tend to be more against than anything, but in regards to some of your points let me say:
    1). Our teachers teach not only the TEKS but also the National Core standards, so we do our best to teach over and above the TEKS.
    2). As far as graduation requirements we do follow the states 4×4 plan and meet all graduation requirements that the state mandates for public schools.
    3). As long as private schools are not allowed to participate in UIL activities it is not an issue as to whether or not they transfer for athletic purposes. Besides we do not want kids for athletic purposes, we want kids because they and their parents value a Christian education.
    4). We are not completely equipped to have a full blown Special Ed. department, but we do work with our students who have learning disabilities and learning differences.
    5). We do not have to meet State Accountability currently but we do administer Norm Referenced tests that we use for our own accountability and to insure that we are doing our jobs with the utmost integrity. We also require our students to take the ACT/SAT and use that data to train our staff yearly.
    I do not know whether or not this message will fall on deaf ears or not but I do want it to be know that their are great teachers in the public sector that get a very bad rap, but by the same token there are many great teachers in the private sector, that usually make far less than even our public school colleagues.