It’s no surprise that some of our current leaders like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick or President-elect Donald Trump are pushing school voucher programs. They’ve been telling us that was their intention for years. Abandoning our neighborhood public schools, however, isn’t something the vast majority of Texans want. While political salesmen like Patrick and Trump and the organizations that support them like to wax poetically about supporting “school choice” programs, such as taxpayer savings grants and education savings accounts (ESAs), these programs are nothing more than vouchers. Unlike real choice programs that help families find the best fit for their children, the true purpose of every voucher program is to decrease the state’s responsibility to properly fund a quality education for every child while directing education dollars that are spent to political supporters.
Vouchers would direct money away from an already cash-strapped public education system for a subset of students, while leaving thousands more behind with fewer resources to support them. We are already close to dead last when it comes to how much Texas spends on education per child. That existing deficiency combined with taking more funding away from our neighborhood schools is a recipe for disaster. There are numerous examples of similar programs that have failed around the country.
Voucher supporters argue a free market would improve schools through competition, but there is not a solid research base to support that claim — and significant anecdotal evidence to the contrary. Why would anyone expect that sending students and public tax dollars to voucher schools, which don’t have to adhere to the same standards as public schools, would improve educational outcomes?
Schools accepting vouchers wouldn’t have to meet state-approved academic standards or public accountability and transparency requirements such as special education, health and safety laws. Most of all, unlike public schools, voucher schools aren’t responsible for accepting all students; they can accept who they want and will absolutely exercise that right.
Our society’s commitment to public education, as enshrined in the Texas Constitution, places a responsibility on our legislature to ensure we have a public education system capable of properly educating every child who comes to the schoolhouse door. Voucher schools, on the other hand, can pick and choose who they take and are inherently exclusionary. As a result, the population of students who might benefit from a voucher is substantially limited and the schools available to all students are significantly harmed. Under this proposed system, students with special needs — such as learning or physical disabilities, language barriers or behavioral challenges — would mostly likely be left behind.
Schools aren’t businesses and shouldn’t be run like them. Businesses can choose what type of product they want to sell and how to sell it — and if the product is not up to their standard, it gets sent back or destroyed. Our schools’ products are children, and we can’t send them back; we must build them up.We cater to their education needs, whether our students be homeless, rich, poor, abused, frightened, rude or brilliant. No matter what their background, Texas parents know their children will receive a quality education in public schools.
Our educators are doing amazing things in the classroom every day, but there’s always room for improvement. A little funding can go a long way, but in our case, Texas cut $5.4 billion from public schools in 2011. Now legislators are talking about taking even more money away in the name of “school choice.”
It’s high time for the public to stand up for teachers and public education and say, “Enough!” Invest in the talent of Texas educators, throw a little positive support their way and the sky is the limit. Saying Texas public schools are a failure is nothing more than political rhetoric. It is being spouted by those who know little about what really goes on in the classroom or in the homes of those 5.3 million schoolchildren who are trying to do their very best — without the full support of those responsible for giving them that chance.
Our energy and resources would be better spent on the public education system than on a limited voucher experiment. Restoring all the funding cut from public schools in 2011 would help us battle overcrowded classrooms, provide the latest and greatest technology to students, and offer better pay and support for great teachers so that they stay in the classroom longer and do the most good.
Godsey is the executive director for the Association of Texas Professional Educators.