Vouchers are not conservative

by By Representative Glenn Rogers

By State Rep. Glenn Rogers

The Community News

Editor’s Note: Glenn Rogers is the state representative for Texas House District 60, which includes Parker County. He is also a candidate for re-election in the upcoming Republican Primary. His opponent in the primary, Michael Olcott, did not respond to calls and text messages inviting him to submit an opposing view.

The right of every child to a safe, secure, and quality education has been a core value of Texas since our independence.

Following our independence in 1836, Texas has had six different constitutions, with the current Texas Constitution being amended 530 times since 1876. Nevertheless, throughout decades of revision, secession, and reconstruction, our state has never wavered from its promise to provide education to every Texan.

Our founders believed that this promise was essential to securing the posterity of our state from generation to generation; however, almost a century and a half later, this value is under attack. Under the guise of promoting choice, proposed school voucher programs are a “trojan horse” attempt to privatize Texas’ education system, and drain our already underfunded public education of necessary resources for millions of children.

A voucher program is a policy of diverting state and taxpayer resources marked for public education to private entities. Proponents of this system try to claim that children are “trapped in the public education system they were raised in.” This is, quite frankly, not true.

Texas already has one of the most robust “school choice” systems for parents in the nation. Between open-enrollment public schools, private schools, charter schools, homeschools, and online learning, parents have plenty of available options to place their child wherever they see fit.

Since 1995, when the Texas Legislature created the Public Education Grant (PEG) program, parents of children in failing schools have been able to receive grants to transfer them to other schools. Only a few hundred parents have asked for a PEG, with transportation issues cited as the most common reason this program has not been more utilized. Vouchers do not increase the number of choices available to a parent; they only serve to finance these private institutions with taxpayer money.

A voucher is a flat rate that pays for a portion of tuition. The family is then expected to cover the remaining cost out of pocket ─ an impossible task for many low to middle-income families.

The average cost of a private school in Texas is about $11,407 per student per year, with some costing more than $30,000. Additionally, attending private school may require substantially more financial resources to actively participate in the private school culture.

Recently proposed voucher programs have offered parents $8-10,500 towards tuition. This means that families who want to exercise their vouchers are still expected to pay the difference per each child to enroll them in a private school. The end result is that the majority of Texas families remain in public schools with less funding, whereas more wealthy families who can afford private education outright get a taxpayer-subsidized discount.

In a thorough review of voucher programs in other states, a range of 75% (Arizona) to 90% (Ohio) of students receiving vouchers had NEVER ATTENDED public schools. In Louisiana, 99% of the states’ “voucher tax” goes directly to families that bring in more than $200,000 per year. These hardly seem like programs that get low to medium income students out of public schools. Rather it reeks of an expensive entitlement program creating clear winners and losers.

The same principle is also true with acceptance standards. Even though a parent has an educational voucher, this does not mean a private or charter school must accept their child. Private schools have the discretion to not admit any student based on academic performance, behavioral issues, disability, residence, or income level. Once again, most Texas parents would have their children in a public school system that is continually stripped of resources to subsidize education for those who already could pay and be accepted.

Considering these schools are private, the State of Texas would be funneling money into organizations with little accountability. Private schools do not have to comply with the same transparency standards as a traditional public education. Once these private entities start receiving public funds, the line between private and government regulation begins to blur.

Parents who choose private or homeschool education for their children expect a certain level of independence in their education. Texas home schools and private schools are currently some of the least regulated in the country. Voucher programs would alter traditional private education by destroying that independence from government. While proponents of vouchers often like to say, “Let the money follow the child,” the follow-up is the “government follows the money.”

Public school board members are elected and held accountable by the ISD residents, the salaries of superintendents are made a public record by the Texas Education Agency, and all instructional materials are reviewed by an elected State Board of Education.

When problems arise within our public schools, the taxpayers and the state can act. In the 86th Legislative Session, the Texas House passed HB3, which provided sweeping reforms to our education system. The 87th legislature approved Senate Bill 3, banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory in K-12 classrooms and House Bill 25 to prevent biological males competing in women’s sports. The 88th legislature passed HB 900, “The Reader Act,” which prohibits the purchase of sexually explicit library material and sets out standards for library material selection and removal.

These conservative victories would not have been possible without an education system that is accountable and transparent at all levels of government. These changes are examples of direct responses to a transparent accountability system allowing for open exposure and correction. Public schools are far from perfect, but are continually subject to transparency and continuous improvement. Private schools receiving vouchers desire no public accountability.

As Texans, it is better that we handle problems out in the open and not masked behind private authority. As a parent of a recent public high school graduate, I know, firsthand, the desire to make sure she has the best education afforded to her. I believe there is a need for public, private, home, and charter schools to allow parents the choice to select the type of education that works best for their children. Yet, to maintain this balance, we cannot embrace changes that will make components of our taxpayer funded education system less accountable.

The more than $32 billion surplus available for the 88th Legislature would have allowed for both enhanced public school funding and a limited voucher program. However, in 2011 Texas legislators were faced with a major budget shortfall and were required to take $5 billion away from public schools, an amount that has never been fully recovered. It would not be conservative to implement a massive voucher entitlement program expecting continued large budget surpluses.

Ultimately, vouchers can only be maintained by raising property taxes and/or defunding our public schools. Neither of these should be acceptable to conservative Texans.