Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Voucher by Any Other Name…

Much of the discussion in prior legislative sessions and among those intent on shifting dollars away from public schools has used the word voucher … until fairly recently.  While the word has largely fallen out of vogue, the idea that dollars should be reallocated remains and it’s important to understand that changing a name does little to change the fact that this diversion of funds is inconsistent with the requirements to adequately fund public education as defined in the Texas Constitution.  And while the Texas Supreme Court, in their ruling, stated that current school finance laws meet the “minimum constitutional requirement”, what happens when funds are siphoned off and reallocated to a different form of school choice?

By the way, in this discussion of so-called school choice, remember that public education is a form of school choice!

Outgoing State Board of Education vice chairman Thomas Ratliff (@ratlifft) spelled this out very clearly in a recent Twitter post he wrote in which he expressed an opinion that Education Savings Accounts (is this the name de jour?) are the equivalent of what he called a “gigantic entitlement program”.  He expressed particular concern that recipients of funds generated through education savings accounts are actually using funds that exceed what they have paid in taxes.  He acknowledges that this would not be the case for some but certainly would apply to the majority.

What is particularly troubling, and is symptomatic of the issue relating to all choice other than public education, is that there is no accountability for how the money is spent.  At a projected cost (according to Vice Chairman Ratilff) of approximately $6.4 B over the biennium, the lack of accountability has to be troubling even for the most ardent proponent of choices other than public education.  How many of these individuals are willing to commit funds without any assurance that they are being spent in the intended manner and, perhaps more importantly, they are achieving the intended results?

The Lt. Governor has once again made it very clear that he intends to make vouchers (by whatever name!) a key focus of his agenda for the 85th Legislative Session.  Every child deserves and is entitled to a quality education but simply moving dollars around offers no assurance that doing so will accomplish the objectives of ensuring that occurs.  To the contrary, there is a very strong likelihood that any shift will have an adverse impact not just on those who “follow the money” but certainly on those who remain a part of the public education system.

Regardless of one’s position on vouchers (by whatever name!), it’s critical that we not fall prey to statements that the public education system is flawed and thus warrants a shift in focus and dollars.  It’s critical that those of us who are public education advocates continue to push for accountability regardless of the outcome and to ensure that the more than 5.2 million public education students receive the education to which they are constitutionally entitled, to continue our efforts to Make Education a Priority.

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