Vouchers are taxpayer-funded government subsidies for private schools and vendors with no accountability for results. Vouchers reduce fair access to educational opportunity, weaken rights for students with disabilities, and expose taxpayers to fraud. Only district and charter schools can deliver on the promise of quality school choice with both transparency and accountability in the use of public dollars.
Voucher advocates are growing increasingly irritable. Texans aren’t buying into their efforts to rebrand vouchers into warmer, fuzzier sounding “Education Savings Accounts” (ESAs) and “tax credit scholarships.”
But this is Texas, not Wonderland. Don’t get snookered by the word games. A voucher is a voucher, no matter what market-researched name you slap on it.
When it comes to school vouchers, additional choices do not necessarily equate to higher quality choices. As explained in this brief, school voucher programs that operate outside the public system with limited or no transparency and no accountability requirements do not have a track record of success.
SB3 3 recycles the worst of previous sessions’ voucher proposals and stacks them all in one bill. ESAs and tax credit scholarships are just fancy names for school vouchers that take funding from local public schools to provide a taxpayer-funded government subsidy to private schools and providers.
The library contains a wealth of resources about school vouchers and their effects on students, families, schools, and taxpayers. The library is regularly updated to include our most current materials and publications.
While often repackaged under different names, or with slightly different mechanics or eligibility requirements, the general concept of a school voucher is the same. For each of the following voucher systems, students receive the voucher entitlement instead of attending public school or were never enrolled in a public school in the first place depending on the requirements of the program.
The state provides families with all or part of the funds which would have been used to educate their child in public school. This is often based on the average per pupil state expenditure for public school and is used to pay for all or part of private school tuition.
Corporations can allocate an amount equal to all or part of their state tax liability to a private scholarship-granting organization. These private organizations manage and distribute voucher funding to families to be used for non-public educational expenses. Unlike a charitable contribution, the individual or corporation often receives a dollar-for-dollar reduction in state taxes owed, so they have in effect “donated” nothing.
The state provides families with the bulk of the funds that would have been used to educate their child in public school. The funds are placed in an authorized Education Savings Account (ESA) and may be used for private school tuition or other non‑public educational costs, which may include homeschooling, online learning, tutoring, or to purchase other products and services from private vendors.
Though marketed as distinct from traditional school vouchers, the ESA is simply different dressing on a familiar scheme to redirect public taxpayer dollars to pay for private, unregulated, and unaccountable services.
The Education Savings Account (ESA) voucher allows parents to hold public funds in an account to be used for private school tuition, home schooling, private tutors, online courses, and purchases from an array of private vendors.
While an ESA voucher may sound appealing to parents as extra state support to pay for educational services for their child, ESAs pose the same problems as traditional vouchers in terms of lack of accountability and resulting harm to students in the public school system. In many cases, the benefit provided is far less than the cost of tuition raising additional concerns about fair access to educational opportunity.
When a parent uses tax dollars for private tutoring, online courses, or instructional materials, there is no guarantee those services are high-quality or that they will result in better academic achievement. The use of the dollars are not transparent or accountable to taxpayers the same way public schools are held accountable for student achievement, fiscal responsibility, and child safety.
Because ESA vouchers are directed to unregulated entities, the potential for fraud is high. An infusion of educational resources for private entities would result in a sizeable new crop of untested and unaccountable providers.
Like traditional vouchers, ESAs remove public funds from the public system, resulting in fewer resources for the 5 million+ students who are still educated by public schools. Fiscal implications for the state would be high, especially if ESAs are available to students who were previously enrolled in private or home schools. Our public school students, who will power the vast majority of the future Texas workforce, deserve a world-class education. Texas school districts and charter schools are delivering numerous high-quality educational choices for parents with transparency and accountability for results.
“[W]ith the explosion of public charters, magnets and creative choice schools, the need to siphon money away from public schools as a way to embolden innovation and diversity of opportunity is no more.”
Dallas Morning News Editorial Board, 10/27/16
No longer separated by hundreds of miles or zip codes, cutting-edge programs and quality choices are increasingly available to public school students across the state, to the benefit of Texas families and the state’s future economy. Today, innovative programs, relevant coursework, and student-centered opportunities draw Texas families to quality public school options like the ones featured in these stories.
The rate at which districts are embracing quality choice is promising, and schools should be responsive and adaptive to parent, student, and community interests. Since the public education system is the only place where transparency and accountability are guaranteed, our public schools must lead the way.
Districts across the state are embracing quality school choice in a variety of ways. Explore this interactive story to learn more about locally driven innovations and choice opportunities for Texas families.