Senate voucher scheme holds school funding hostage

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 23, 2017
CONTACT:  Rob D’Amico, 512-627-1343

Texas AFT members urge state reps to reject private-school vouchers that poisoned a crucial school-finance bill

A key school-finance bill passed by the Texas House was hijacked last week by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and some members of the Texas Senate intent on passing a scheme for private-school vouchers.

“These Texas senators, under the approving eye of the lieutenant governor, are playing politics with the kids of our state by taking one of the most beneficial education bills in recent history and poisoning it with vouchers that would instead fund private schools with no accountability to taxpayers,” said Louis Malfaro, Texas AFT president.

House Bill 21—by Dan Huberty (R-Houston)—was passed with overwhelming support in the Texas House, where the legislation was intended both to provide for revisions of some outdated school-finance formulas and to supply a much-needed increase in school funding, some $1.9 billion, to districts across the state. The significant House-passed increase in per-pupil funding would help address ongoing problems with the adequacy and equity of the state’s school finance system, add funding to schools struggling to educate an increasingly diverse population of schoolchildren, and help cash-strapped districts increase teacher pay or address skyrocketing health-care costs. The chair of the Senate Education Committee—Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood)—offered a substitute for the bill that stripped away most of the school funding and added a program to provide private-school vouchers to schoolchildren with disabilities.

“The Texas Legislature has rejected vouchers repeatedly over the past two decades because Texans of all political stripes object to the use of public money to fund private education,” Malfaro said. “The Texas House made it clear at the outset of this legislative session that no public money would be appropriated for vouchers. The Senate under the direction of Lt. Gov. Patrick has responded with a coercive move trying to force House members to give in on vouchers by withholding funding for 5.3 million Texas schoolchildren. It’s disgraceful.”

Malfaro said that Texas AFT is calling on all its members to write and phone representatives—at www.texasaft.org/rejectvouchers–with the message to reject HB 21 so long as it includes private-school vouchers. Texas AFT joins the Coalition for Texas Public Schools and some 40 education and public-policy organizations that also have called for the rejection of the Senate version of HB 21 and any other voucher legislation.

 

Background: Why vouchers are a bad deal for special education students

  • Students with disabilities in special education receiving a voucher under this Senate scheme would give up their federal protections upon exiting the public school. This includes their rights to due process under admissions, review, and dismissal (ARD) committees and other federal protections.
  • No accountability exists under ESAs. Private and religious schools that would access taxpayer dollars through this voucher program are not accountable to the state. The Senate version of HB 21 would allow these schools to receive taxpayer monies while not meeting the same curriculum or fiscal requirements of a Texas public school. Texans overwhelmingly believe that schools that receive tax dollars should be accountable for how they are spent, but the schools that receive vouchers would not be accountable to taxpayers.
  • ESAs violate the separation of church and state and the First Amendment. The Senate version of HB 21 provides monies that can be used in any private or religious school. ESAs provide no disallowance for religious content of services or educational products funded with taxpayer dollars.

Texas American Federation of Teachers represents more than 65,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, support personnel, and higher-education employees across the state. Texas AFT is affiliated with the 1.6-million-member American Federation of Teachers.
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