Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick held a state Capitol press conference Monday afternoon to roll out his latest onslaught against public schools. We refer to Senate Bill 3, a private-school voucher bill that Patrick has entrusted to Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), chair of the Senate Education Committee. The bill would create so-called education savings accounts and tuition tax credits to funnel scarce taxpayer dollars to unaccountable private-school operators, all in the name of “parental choice.”
As Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro said in a comment on Patrick’s voucher agenda last week:
Education savings accounts are just vouchers by a different name, and they divert much-needed funding from public schools to private schools with little or no financial or academic accountability. They also open the door for taxpayer money to fund religious schools, and they further segregate our schoolchildren between those that can afford the extra money needed for private school and those that can’t.
When we talk about school choice, we should be talking about enhancing a wide variety of choices already available in many public school districts—magnet schools, fine arts academies, college-preparatory and early-college high schools, Montessori education, dual language campuses, community schools and a full-range of programs and services to support the needs of our increasingly diverse students.
At a Capitol symposium on voucher schemes last week, education scholars made it plain that voucher schemes in other states touted as models by Patrick have actually produced a track record of academic impacts ranging from negligible to negative. “Parental choice” is a misnomer for these arrangements, in which the private operators call the shots, parents lack consumer protection, and kids in both the private and public schools get shortchanged.
Sen. Taylor’s SB 3 may pass in the Senate that Dan Patrick presides over, but voucher schemes tend to fare poorly in the Texas House, whose members seem to understand that you don’t improve the neighborhood public schools in their districts by draining away the resources they need to deliver a quality education.
SB 3 combines features of several other voucher bills previously filed this session: HB 1184 by Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) and SB 542 by Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), both providing for tuition tax credits, and HB 1335 by Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton), setting up education savings accounts primarily for special-education students.