- Julie Chang American-Statesman Staff
If Texans want to see how a private school voucher system would fare in their state, they should look no further than failed voucher systems in other states, traditional public school supporters said on Monday.
The Austin-based Coalition for Public Schools held a symposium at the Capitol, inviting researchers to explain how other states’ voucher systems failed to hold private schools accountable and improve the performance of students, particularly those who are lower income.
“The answer is no and the evidence is fairly robust and many of the studies have shown that kids in voucher schools are not performing better than kids in traditional schools,” said Luis Huerta, associate professor of education and public policy at Columbia University.
The event came a day before thousands were expected to rally in Austin in favor of school choice, an umbrella term that is often used to describe allowing the use of state money to support privately-run schools. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who along with Gov. Greg Abbott is scheduled to speak at the rally on Tuesday, has made school choice one of his legislative priorities this session.
The Austin school district, which could stand to lose money from school choice legislation, is expected to hold a separate rally on Tuesday to highlight its academic programs.
Momentum seems to be on the side of school voucher proponents, with the governor’s expected support and some lawmakers who had opposed voucher efforts in the past no longer in office.
A likely school choice bill would create education savings accounts for students who want to leave their traditional public school. The state would deposit about $5,600 in an account and a student could use the money to pay for other educational options like home or private schooling.
Randan Steinhauser, executive director of Texans for Educational Opportunity and an influential voice in the development of education savings accounts legislation, said that the statements from the coalition’s invited researchers were flawed. School choice supporters want to create opportunities for students who are stuck in schools that aren’t working for them while creating an accountable system, she said.
“There is accountability with these funds because they would be administered by the comptroller’s office, audited quarterly and only be used on approved educational expenses,” she said. “Education savings accounts are not vouchers.”
Charles Luke with the coalition disagrees and said that both savings accounts and vouchers are interchangeable.
“A voucher by another name is still a thorn in the side of taxpayers whose tax dollars would be diverted away from public trust and used for a purpose with no accountability,” Luke said.
Julie Mead, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who was invited by the coalition to speak, said that vouchers erode public schools, which are required to serve all students and teach by a state-approved curriculum. Private schools have different requirements.
She said that in Milwaukee, children in the voucher system make up a majority of students in some private schools.
“I’d like to have us think about what in fact is at stake and are we willing collectively … to let go of those aspects of publicness in the hope that a privatized system might do something different?” Mead said.