Evidence of inferior educational performance by voucher-funded private schools is growing. The latest example is an official study by the U.S. Department of Education, finding that the voucher experiment in the District of Columbia follows the familiar pattern–traditional public schools are doing a better job than the voucher schools. With little or no accountability and poor academic outcomes, vouchers are a bad bargain for taxpayers as well as students, as an overwhelming Texas House majority (103 to 44) said recently by voting for an anti-voucher amendment to the House version of the state budget bill for 2018-19.
Nonetheless, voucher proposals keep coming up at the state Capitol, including two that got a hearing last week and remain pending in the House Public Education Committee. Both bills—HB 1335 by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) and HB 4193, also by Simmons—focus on special-education students. In other states, special-ed vouchers have been the gateway to universal vouchers eventually.
HB 1335 would create “education savings account” vouchers; HB 4193 would create “credit account” vouchers. Both bills have the key elements of a voucher, regardless of their labels and technical mechanisms. They both would transfer public funds to unaccountable private educational service providers without public accountability, all in the name of parental choice.
We urge you to write to your legislators in opposition now, using the new version of our anti-voucher email letter ready and waiting for you on the Texas AFT legislative-action site online. For your convenience, the text of the letter is copied below:
I urge you to oppose all private-school voucher bills in the 2017 legislative session, including those limited to students with disabilities such as HB 1335 and HB 4193.
Vouchers are a particularly bad bargain for students with disabilities. Parents who succumb to the lure of special-education vouchers are often unaware, until it’s too late, that private educational services for students with disabilities are not required to live up to the high standards of federal law for services to such students.
Private providers do not have to employ appropriately certified teachers. They do not have to provide due process in case of disagreement about the level of services a student requires. They do not have to assure their students of an inclusive placement in the least restrictive environment for their education. Vouchers may hold some attraction for parents frustrated with their child’s public school, but parents have legal recourse in the public setting that they lose in private schools. Vouchers for students with disabilities are a direct route to loss of legal rights and educational opportunity.
Experience in other states offering special-education vouchers has revealed that the money generally does not suffice for placement in a high-caliber private school. As a result, the beneficiaries typically are not needy, low-income families but rather are predominantly high-income families who use the public voucher to “top up” their private spending. Under HB 1335 and HB 4193, families with incomes up to about $220,000 a year (four times the state median income) would be eligible for vouchers.
Vouchers for students with disabilities also have all the drawbacks of other voucher schemes. They are not subject to the state’s financial and academic accountability standards applicable to public schools. Like all vouchers, special-education vouchers transfer public funds to private entities that are not answerable to the public for a quality education for their students. Texas should invest in funding public schools adequately, as the state constitution requires, not paying out taxpayer dollars to unaccountable private schools.