Private schools advocate for tax programs

Lawmakers discuss school vouchers

AUSTIN - Lawmakers are looking at whether Texas should allow public tax money to be spent on private schools.

The Texas Constitution requires free public schools, which are paid for mostly though individual property taxes. This session, private school advocates argue parents should be able to keep some of their tax money for tuition and other expenses through education savings accounts.

"Fundamentally I believe that choice works," state Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) told the Texas House Public Education Committee Monday. "Why does it work? Because it works in the grocery business. It works in the cell phone business. It works in the dry cleaning business. This model of providing education for students is no different than any other model in the marketplace, and choice would work."

The issue of "school choice" has had a long history in the Texas Legislature, which has been resistant to efforts to divert tax money from the public school system. State Rep. Marsha Farney (R-Georgetown) questioned private school advocates at length Monday, concluding, "To me this comes across as a social experiment at the cost of the children and the taxpayers."

"What we're really talking about today is vouchers," said Monty Exter with the Association of Texas Professional Educators. Noting that any redirection is unlikely to be met with an offsetting increase in public school funding, Exter said, "It's going to ultimately take money away from the traditional public education system."

On the other side is Justice Foundation President Allan Parker, Jr., who told KVUE, "We should stop funding districts whether they do a good job or bad job, start funding every child's education and then let good schools grow and flourish. Let poor schools either improve or diminish as children take their money with them to the school that's doing the best job for them."

Private school supporters contend that freedom from state requirements allows more innovation and better outcomes for students, and forcing public schools to vie for parents' tax dollars would create healthy competition. Public school supporters argue private schools aren't accessible to the majority of Texas students and lack the transparency and accountability of publicly-run independent school districts.

"How do we say that the private schools are doing an excellent job when they don't have students who are discipline issues and they don't have students who are attendance issues or they don't have students who are not reading on grade level or above?" asked Farney.

"Private schools right now can basically accept or deny students for virtually any reason, which is the exact opposite of how the public system works," explained Exter. "The public system has to accept all students, regardless of their background."

"School choice introduces true accountability," said Parker. "If you're not educating my child and doing a good job, I'm taking my money and go somewhere that will."

Private school advocates don't want the same state regulations that apply to public schools, and many private schools oppose vouchers for fear state funding would come with additional oversight. Kent Grusendorf, director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation Center for Education Freedom, assured the committee, "Our proposal would include language in the bill that specifically prohibits additional regulations of private schools."

Lawmakers will also consider tax credit scholarships, which would allow business taxes to be directed towards private tuition for low-income students. It's plenty for lawmakers to study before the next legislative session.

"School choice introduces true accountability," said Parker. "If you're not educating my child and doing a good job, I'm taking my money and go somewhere that will."

(© 2016 KVUE)


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