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The Case Against School Vouchers

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.

  • District/Voucher Comparison Chart
  • Texas Students Outperform Voucher States Blog
  • Rebranding Vouchers Blog
  • Voucher Policy Brief
  • SB3 Position Paper

WHICH SCHOOLS OFFER BOTH CHOICE AND ACCOUNTABILITY?

High-quality school choice is important. But tax dollars should not be stripped away from the millions of students in public schools and siphoned to private campuses or programs that aren’t accessible, transparent, or accountable for results. This chart shows the different requirements for public district and charter schools compared to private schools that would potentially receive Education Savings Account vouchers and Tax Credit Scholarship vouchers under Senate Bill 3.

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TOPPING THE LIST ON WHAT MATTERS MOST:

Texas Students Outperform Voucher States on Key Academic Benchmarks

Many supporters of education savings accounts, tax credit scholarships, and other school voucher programs promise these schemes will provide better educational options and even improve the performance of public schools. They bemoan Texas is “behind” other states on “private school choice.” Yet evidence on educational achievement shows Texas generally outperforms these voucher states on many metrics.ut 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.

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THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS:

The Rebranding of School Vouchers

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.

THE COSTLY SHORTCOMINGS OF SCHOOL VOUCHERS:

Inadequate Accountability, Transparency, and Results

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.

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SB3 POSITION PAPER

A School Voucher, Government Subsidy, and Corporate Tax Break Rolled into One!

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.

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2017 LEGISLATIVE PRIORITY

Protect taxpayer funds by keeping them in the public education system, where transparency and accountability for results are guaranteed.

Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) and Tax Credit Scholarships (a.k.a. School Vouchers) are not the answer.

Here’s why:

TAXPAYER DOLLARS WOULD PAY FOR VOUCHERS, WITH NO OVERSIGHT OR ACCOUNTABILITY IN RETURN.

  • ESAs, tax credit scholarships, and other school voucher programs do not have to comply with the same rules as local public and charter schools.
  • Private schools are subject to no oversight for quality by the State of Texas.
  • ESAs allow tax dollars to be spent on a wide array of private vendors with zero accountability apart from outright fraud.

VOUCHERS ARE GOVERNMENT SUBSIDIES FOR PRIVATE SCHOOLS.

  • ESAs, tax credit scholarships, and other school vouchers use tax dollars to pay for students to attend private schools at government expense.

VOUCHERS REDUCE FAIR ACCESS TO EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY FOR TEXAS STUDENTS.

  • ESAs, tax credit scholarships, and other school vouchers divert scarce resources from public schools that serve all students to pay for private schools for a few.
  • Reports from other states show ESA vouchers are not used by students from working families, but are used primarily by wealthier families who can afford the additional costs of private school not covered by the voucher.

SCHOOL VOUCHERS ARE A HIDDEN TAX ON TEXANS.

  • School vouchers divert a portion of property taxes away from local public schools and send them to private schools and vendors in other parts of the state.
  • Voucher proposals under consideration provide no transparency of information or accountability for results.

THERE IS ZERO EVIDENCE ESAs WORK.

  • Despite voucher advocates’ efforts to spin the mixed data on vouchers as a whole, there is no research showing ESAs work.

ESAs WEAKEN THE RIGHTS OF STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES.

  • ESAs can require students with disabilities and their families to waive hard-won legal protections as a condition of receiving the voucher–a high price to pay.
  • Students also lose the guarantee of inclusion in a mainstreamed, or “least restrictive environment” classroom with a trained teacher.

ESAs ARE HIGHLY VULNERABLE TO FRAUD AND ABUSE.

  • ESAs provide funds directly to individuals to pay not just for private school tuition, but for a whole range of products from private vendors including tutoring, books, and computer hardware.
  • It is often difficult to determine if these expenditures are legitimate and audits in other states have identified numerous instances of fraud and abuse using taxpayer funds.
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Voucher Policy Library

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.

Voucher Basics

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.

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TRADITIONAL VOUCHERS

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.

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TAX CREDIT SCHOLARSHIPS

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.

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EDUCATION SAVINGS ACCOUNTS (ESA)

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.

THE THREAT OF THE
EDUCATION SAVINGS ACCOUNT VOUCHER

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.

Mr. Voucher

Mr. Voucher brings a little levity to the concerning debate over vouchers, and reveals how much of the hype surrounding voucher schemes is unproven or without merit. 

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“[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

Quality School Choice is Thriving in Texas Public Schools

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.

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QUALITY PUBLIC SCHOOL CHOICE

Districts across the state are embracing quality school choice in a variety of ways. Watch to learn more about locally driven innovations and choice opportunities for Texas families.