House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts said Tuesday he’d move to table any amendment to a fiscal matters bill that hadn’t been heard in committee, signaling that he’d try to table any school voucher proposal. However, there was talk last night that the language might be brought up as “an amendment to an amendment.”
There is certainly still a strong possibility that the so-called Taxpayer Savings Grants Program could find its way into legislation. Right now, it’s pre-filed as an amendment to SB 1811 by Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville.
A vote on a school voucher program could be a close one. It is vitally important that you call your representatives and tell them to vote NO on ANY voucher program language.
Reasons to oppose the Taxpayer Savings Grant Program or any voucher program:
- Texas public schools are facing unprecedented and massive cuts to public education and the structural deficit and broken school finance system that created the budget shortfall have not been adequately addressed by this Legislature. To devise a plan that strips money from public schools at such a time is unconscionable.
- At a time when the state is maintaining a laser focus on accountability, transparency, college readiness and measuring student performance, lawmakers should not consider a program that embraces none of these things. The Taxpayer Savings Grant Program includes nothing about improving student achievement or accountability for how taxpayer money is being spent. There is no mechanism for tracking a student’s progress and ensuring students are receiving a quality education.
- This session the Legislature is considering increasing standards for charter schools. Why would Texas want a voucher program with zero accountability at a time when standards for all taxpayer-funded schools, including schools of choice, are aiming for higher standards than ever?
- While the group promoting the voucher program says it could save the state $2 billion over the biennium, that number is a guess, at best. The program could actually end up costing the state money. There are 600,000 students in private and home schools in Texas – what happens if they become eligible for a voucher? What about incoming kindergarten students who would’ve attended private school anyway? They would be eligible for a voucher under the proposal, taking money out of public school classrooms.
- The $5,143 the voucher would provide is not enough to cover most private schools’ tuition for a year. This program would be a new entitlement program to subsidize private-school tuition for affluent Texans. Is that a good use of taxpayer dollars at a time when lawmakers are making cuts to the Foundation School Program totaling somewhere between $4 and $8 billion over the next two years?
- Florida launched the country’s first statewide voucher program more than a decade ago, but it was plagued with problems and legal challenges. The state Supreme Court invalidated the plan in 2006, saying it violated a constitutional mandate to create a free and uniform public school system. A voucher system in Texas could cost the state money in legal challenges and could ultimately crumble due to legal violations.
Bringing up a proposal rife with such controversy and potential for divisiveness in the waning days of what most are saying is the most difficult legislative session in memory is a bad idea. Taking away crucial funding from public schools on top of the billions in painful cuts to public education already in the current House and Senate budget bills is unthinkable. Urge your lawmaker to stand up for public education and vote no to any attempt to create a voucher system in Texas.