Despite an overwhelming vote—a more than 2-to-1 margin—by the full House of Representatives against school vouchers during floor consideration of the House budget, voucher proponents persist with efforts to slip vouchers into other legislation.
The most recent attempt occurred during floor consideration of HB 23, legislation by House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty that would provide additional resources for public schools to develop pilot programs to better meet the needs of students with autism.
With no explanation other than saying his amendment would “augment” HB 23 and “helps the bill become better,” Representative Ron Simmons attempted to tack on an amendment to create a voucher program for students with autism in certain counties. Thankfully, other House members’ vigilance and questioning brought the effort to light.
Representative Simmons styled the voucher as a “grant,” but debate revealed the amendment would divert taxpayer funds to private schools and other private service providers with no accountability, reducing the amount of funding available to serve students in public schools. Despite attempts to rebrand the concept with a more innocuous label, legislators recognized it for what it was–a voucher. After further scrutiny, the amendment was withdrawn.
During later consideration of HB 23, Chairman Huberty committed on the House floor that the bill would remain limited to providing grants to public schools in subsequent negotiations with the Senate. Nonetheless, legislators and advocates alike must stay vigilant in the closing days of session as voucher proponents continue efforts to sneak voucher amendments into other legislation. Following the overwhelming rejection of vouchers by the House, Lt. Governor Patrick still said, “I’m not giving up the fight, not even this session.”
We have to anticipate additional efforts to add vouchers to other legislation–including through backroom maneuvers on the state’s biennial budget—and we all need to remain engaged and ready to respond.
Remember, any proposal that diverts taxpayer dollars to private schools and other private vendors with no accountability is still the same ol’ voucher–no matter what label they slap on it!