Voucher Attacks on Public Education in U.S. Congress and Texas Legislature

A U.S. House committee voted on March 10 to renew the District of Columbia pilot voucher program, benefiting mostly parochial schools—a program with little to show for it educationally that remains the only federally funded voucher scheme in the country. The action by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sets the stage for eventual consideration of the so-called “Opportunity Scholarship Program” in the full U.S. House. Prospects for passage of the bill are not certain, especially in the U.S. Senate.

In general, however, voucher schemes have received a boost on the federal level from the appointment of Betsy DeVos as U.S. secretary of education. DeVos has made a career out of pushing for the privatization of public schools. Her controversial track record as a privatizer and her subpar performance at her nomination hearing led the U.S. Senate to come within one vote of rejecting her appointment. Nonetheless, she is expected to spearhead a drive for President Donald Trump’s tax-credit voucher proposal.

Anticipating that drive, some observers on the lookout for potential legislative vehicles for the Trump voucher plan have focused on H.R. 610, a federal bill filed in January by extremist Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa. H.R. 610 combines two favorite ideas of the far-right wing in Congress: turning federal aid to education into block grants, thereby taking guaranteed dollars away from schools with high concentrations of low-income kids; and using federal taxpayer dollars to fund voucher transfers to private schools without accountability.

The bill is so extreme that it is unlikely to be viable and unlikely to serve as the main vehicle for the voucher attack in Congress on public education. The focus on H.R. 610 by some bloggers is well-intentioned and serves to dramatize legitimate concern about the looming threats to public education at the federal level. Certainly, heightened vigilance is good. But we had better watch out for other federal bills that are more likely to be the main vehicles for the effort to tear down public schools.

Meanwhile, we in Texas need to keep the focus on a much more immediate and urgent threat:  SB 3, the state-level voucher bill filed in the Texas Senate by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). We have a letter opposing voucher bills like this on our website, and we urge you to send that letter to your state legislators. Please take this useful action against vouchers in Texas right away. SB 3 could come up for a hearing as early as next week in the Texas Senate Education Committee, which Larry Taylor chairs.