Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Filing of SB 3 … What Next?

Okay, now that the shroud is off of the “mystery” called vouchers (by any name), what does this all mean to us?  The first thing I noticed when I opened the text of the bill to read it for the first time is that there must be something really important for the text to be 33 pages long!  So I thought I would see if there is anything in the bill that we didn’t already know. 

At last week’s School Choice rally, the LG railed on the fact that the House didn’t even vote on a voucher (by any name) bill last session, imploring them to at least give the idea/agenda a thumbs-up or thumbs-down.  The more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that he is probably right.  There is a strong enough sentiment in the House not to approve a voucher bill that I think it is probably a good idea to have the discussion, then vote out any bill regarding vouchers to send a message to the LG and the Senate on where the House stands. 

So here are a few thoughts and observations after reading the bill.
  • The stated purpose of the bill is to “improve public schools and overall academic performance”.  With the 2011 budget cuts not fully restored, wouldn’t it make sense to invest in a proven system, one the Governor openly acknowledged in comments this week, rather than continue to divert resources from it?
  • Another defined purpose is to “increase parental options”.  Parents already have a broad spectrum of options.  What happens to those options when non-public schools have no obligation to accept all students?
  • Sec. 29. 357 talks about approved education-related expenses but there is very little in this bill, other than a random audit, to suggest accountability and compliance with this section.
  • Amounts for which a student is eligible are tied to family income; that makes sense.  But the elephant in the room remains how the difference between those funds and actual tuition and other costs is bridged.
  • Several sections of the bill talk about what non-public schools are NOT REQUIRED to do; in fact, the bill outlines restrictions imposed on government agencies to attempt to dictate any terms under which these schools operate (other than a requirement that they be accredited).
  • Section 230. 057 talks about “net savings to public education”.  This certainly appears to be yet another push to reduce state funding of public schools without any relief for unfunded mandates, accountability, etc.  What will it take for those who support SB3 to understand the basic realities of investing instead of pulling resources?
That’s my two cents on what I see as a significantly flawed piece of legislation.  As I noted above, I hope the House does discuss this and sends a strong message to the Senate and the LG that they do not support this legislation.  While some in the House will favor vouchers (by any name), the reality is that the majority of House members and leadership agree with the need to make education a priority.  Let’s move past the headlines and do our part to continue to advocate for all students.

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