Dominic Anthony Walsh: School vouchers in Texas
Reporting for KERA News, Dominic Anthony Walsh explains what Texans need to know about the threat of vouchers.
Huriya Jabbar is an associate professor in the Educational Policy and Planning program at UT Austin.
“There are a lot of ideologically based think tanks and folks associated with those things that are doing research promoting school voucher policies that often get cited in the same ways as peer-reviewed research by the media,” she said. “I just think there is a very kind of politicized landscape of school choice of research.”
She said folks are missing a key point about the purpose of education.
“I think what’s kind of getting lost in all these debates is the idea of education as a public good and not a private good,” she said. “Vouchers really shift the concept of education to a private good that benefits the individual student or family. But education is a public good, meaning that it benefits not just individuals, but society as a whole.”
The debate in Texas illustrates the shifting political enclosures around school choice. While early programs were bipartisan, the current voucher proposals are primarily supported by conservatives concerned about the specter of “indoctrination” in public schools.
The State Board of Education, for example, recently expressed support for school vouchers after years of opposition. The reversal came after the GOP increased its majority and swept out a moderate, anti-voucher Republican with the help of record-shattering contributions from an “anti-CRT” political action committee.
Walsh notes that Greg Abbott is all in on universal vouchers.
He put his stamp of approval on a specific form of vouchers — education savings accounts, where families who pull students out of public education receive money. One bill in the legislature would give families about $10,000 a year that they can spend or hold on to.
The policy would mean that the Annapolis Christian Academy parents Abbott was speaking to could use taxpayer dollars for their kids’ religious private school tuition.
If a voucher rollout in Texas mirrors what happened in Arizona, those parents would be the most likely to benefit. More than three quarters of voucher participants in Arizona already had a child enrolled in private school.
But rural districts are concerned.
If a voucher program of some kind passes in the state, it could affect enrollment at small, rural schools. That’s what worries Michael Lee, who is the executive director of the Texas Association of Rural Schools, which opposes vouchers. He has also led rural school districts as a superintendent.
“When you lose students, you lose funding because your funding is based on your students and your average daily attendance,” Lee said.
He said budget cuts can have ripple effects in small towns, where the public school is also a major employer.
“Not only are you adjusting staff, you’re cutting programs,” Lee said.
Lee has followed this issue through multiple legislative sessions. He predicts a big fight this year, and not just for opponents. It’s also contentious among Republicans.
District 88 House Rep. Ken King is one rural Republican against plans that would divert money from public schools. He’s a member of the House Public Education Committee who’s served on a Panhandle small-town school board.
“It’s horrible for rural Texas. It’s horrible for all Texans,” King said at a Texas Tribune event in Lubbock a few months ago. “The only people it’s going to help are the kids who don’t need the help.”