Texas legislators are considering school voucher programs among other proposed laws, and every Texan should know this is a bad idea. Why? Because school voucher programs originated in the Jim Crow South to maintain racial segregation and not improve student achievement.
Voucher programs allow parents to use taxpayer money to subsidize private school education, aid that often comes in the form of private school tuition fees, tax credits, or scholarships. Proponents of vouchers are ignoring research showing their shortcomings and rebranding them as a mechanism to encourage parental “choice”.
The choice that the vouchers represent is a farce. No sane Texan wants to choose an education policy that doesn’t work, defunds public education, encourages discrimination against disabled children, and uses tax dollars to subsidize the education of wealthy families who are already sending their children to private schools. The vouchers are a scam because that is exactly what will happen if they are passed in this legislative session.
Consider the Milwaukee voucher program. It has been in existence for about 30 years and has not resulted in better outcomes for students receiving vouchers while hurting the local district through loss of enrollment and funding.
Voucher programs in Louisiana, New York, and Washington, D.C. have also failed to improve outcomes, and in some cases have resulted in significant declines in academic performance, especially for low-income students whom politicians say the vouchers are designed to help.
Vouchers also promote discrimination against students with disabilities, as private schools can deny them access based on criteria, unlike public schools. Consequently, public schools are left with a disproportionate number of students with disabilities who are more expensive to educate and who have less money. Lack of oversight of voucher programs increases the likelihood of financial mismanagement, fraud and school closures that will harm all students in the long run.
The vouchers have failed in almost every way, except when it comes to helping wealthy families. For example, the recent Arizona voucher program was mainly used by wealthy families already sending their children to private schools, but not by low-income families who could not afford private school tuition and transportation costs even with a voucher.
The undeniable fact that vouchers have not outperformed public schools makes it difficult to understand why state politicians have proposed voucher laws such as SB 176 and HB 557 in this session. The supporters may not have done their homework.
Texas also has groups in the state that provide campaign support, such as the Defend Texas Liberty, a Christian Nationalist-focused PAC led by two West Texas billionaires, but Democrats and many rural Republicans still accept that vouchers are fraud. Republican Rep. Ken King recently said of the vouchers, “If I have anything to say about this, it’s that they’re dead on arrival… It’s terrible for rural Texas. It’s terrible for all of Texas.” King and other rural Republicans know that vouchers hurt small rural areas disproportionately, given the small budgets of public schools and employees in those areas.
Texas does not need a powerful push through the failed policies of other states. These bills must be rejected immediately.
The real choice of lawmakers in this session is whether they will take the necessary steps to invest in public education, gun reform and mental health care to ensure our children are not subjected to another mass shooting. This legislative session could also be about having a well-prepared, well-paid, and highly qualified public school teacher in every classroom. After the Uvalde school shooting and a record 43,000 teacher vacancies last year, we can’t afford to waste time and money on anything else, especially vouchers.
DeMatthews is Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Texas.