James Largent: Vouchers would hurt public schools

December 15, 2012

Vouchers would hurt public schools

As I mentioned in my last article, I want to take up the issue of vouchers.

Before I begin, I want to be very clear about my stance on private schools, homeschools, etc. I support parents making decisions on what education model they believe is best for their child. There are many good private schools, and there are many parents who do a good job homeschooling their kids. I personally believe that GISD provides the greatest opportunity for students in Granbury, but I also respect parents who choose an alternate way to educate their child.

The Texas Constitution states that it is the state’s responsibility to provide a “free public education.” There is no mention, no intent, nor any indication that states should use tax dollars to subsidize education for parents who choose to educate their children in a different way. So, my belief is, if a parent chooses an alternative way to educate their child, the full cost of that alternative should be their responsibility. A free public education is available to every child in Texas through our public schools.

In the upcoming legislative session, you will not hear the word “voucher” used very often because Texans have strongly opposed any form of voucher program in the past. What you will hear are words like “taxpayer savings grants,” “tax credit scholarships,” or “opportunity scholarships.” But, if you look closely, they are all just rhetoric for vouchers.

So, what is a voucher, and why should you be concerned about them? No matter what they are called, vouchers are taxpayer-subsidized private education. Any of these schemes will take public tax dollars and allow those dollars to be used to fund private education or even homeschooling – at the same time taking more money away from public education.

You will hear advocates say that public schools need competition in order to get better. But, how is it competition when private schools are not subject to any formal governance, not required to have open meetings, do not have to provide their financial audits to the public, and are not required to administer any state assessments or release measures of academic quality?

Taking all that into consideration, how would one say that a private school or homeschool is doing a “better job” unless you assess them using the same measures in which public schools are assessed? So, the argument about competition has no merit because there is no way to compare the two.

There is also the other issue regarding private schools; they can “choose” the students who go to their school. Private schools have the right to deny admission to anyone. They are under no requirement to provide special education services, serve students with limited English proficiency, those who prove they are unmotivated to learn, or those who simply cannot afford the tuition.

Finally, you will hear that these proposed vouchers are being put in place to help economically disadvantaged students get out of failing schools. The problem with that argument is that any voucher the state offers would not come close to funding the cost for these students to attend private schools. And, how would these students get to school each day if they chose a private school that was 20 miles across town? You see, none of these voucher advocates have good answers to those questions.

If legislators decide they must put in a voucher system, here is one pilot program I would support. First, make vouchers available only to students in failing public schools – and only to students who do not have the economic means to pay for private education.

PILOT PROGRAM

Require any private school that agrees to take vouchers to admit any student who wants to come to their school – no matter their disability or academic status. Require these schools to provide transportation, meals, and administer the same tests and accountability standards that public schools are required to follow and publish those results publicly. Require that whatever voucher the state gives, the school must accept as payment in full for a year of private education. In three years, compare the school where the student came from and the school where they are now enrolled and see if there is a difference. If there are measurable academic improvements, continue the program. If not, end the program immediately.

The program I describe above will, of course, not be considered in the upcoming session. The reason is because it does not do what the voucher advocates really want – to divert tax dollars away from public schools in order to subsidize private and for-profit businesses. This is another classic case of “follow the money.”

Look at those who are adamantly supporting vouchers and uncover who they represent. You will find software companies, for-profit private and homeschool organizations and others who would benefit financially with a change in the law. But they want no part of having to follow the same rules and especially the same accountability system that public schools are required to follow.

There are too many questions regarding vouchers for this idea to get any meaningful consideration in this legislative session. There are many other important issues the state must answer regarding how best to fund and deliver the world-class public education our legislators are demanding of us. Taking away more funding from public schools at a time when expectations are constantly being raised is a recipe for disaster.

On behalf of the GISD Board of Trustees and our entire GISD family, I hope you all have a wonderful Holiday Season!

If you have topics you would like Dr. Largent to address in future columns, he can be reached at [email protected]

Share...
Email this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on Pinterest

Category: Education Archived