New Push for Special-Ed Vouchers Meets Strong Resistance–Your Help Needed

This morning Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) suddenly inserted a special-education voucher plan into HB 21, the important bill by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) that would significantly increase school funding. Taylor’s surprise substitute for HB 21 needs to be stripped of this voucher “poison pill” transferring public funds to private schools without accountability.

Opposition to this latest voucher scheme was loud and strong. Texas AFT legislative counsel Patty Quinzi was joined by parents and advocates of children with disabilities in testimony urging rejection of the Taylor substitute. His rewrite of HB 21 is an attempt to impose vouchers as the price to be paid for passing a down-sized version of the school-funding bill that would not deliver the $1.5 billion-plus in new school aid assured under the House version. Taylor’s hasty substitute was not even accompanied by the required analysis of its budget impact by experts from the Legislative Budget Board.

Please add your voice to the fight against this latest attempt to divert taxpayer funds to private schools that are not held accountable for academic results or financially sound practices. Send a letter opposing the Taylor special-ed voucher scheme now to your state senator and representative via the Texas AFT legislative-action website. Below you can preview the ready-made draft of the e-letter (which you of course may modify):

Oppose Special-Education Vouchers!

I urge you to oppose all private-school voucher bills in the 2017 legislative session, including the so-called “education savings account” vouchers inserted on May 11 by Sen. Larry Taylor in his substitute for HB 21, the important school-funding bill passed by the House. Taylor’s “poison pill” voucher plan needs to be stripped from this bill.

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.

VoucherPoison2Experience 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 low-income families but rather are predominantly high-income families who use the public voucher to “top up” their private spending.

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.