School “Choice” – Here We Go Again

January 9, 2015 |

Dr. David Anthony, CEO of Raise Your Hand Texas, recently was interviewed by Time Warner News in Austin in response to a new voucher bill, Senate Bill 276. Be sure to check out the news segment, but there is more to know about vouchers – also sometimes marketed as “taxpayer savings grants” or “tax credit scholarships”– that isn’t covered in the interview.

Arguments waged by voucher proponents go like this:

“Choice is good. Parents and students deserve more choices of schools. Too many students are stuck in failing schools. Vouchers would give families, including poor families, better choices of schools. School choice is the civil rights issue of our time.”

Sounds nice. It’s simple, straight forward, and compelling. Vouchers bills are filed every session. But after more than five decades of their existence, vouchers remain controversial, unproven and unpopular, and for good reason.

We hope everyone can agree every child deserves the highest quality education possible. Based on that, we believe the emphasis should be on strengthening and building capacity within Texas public schools so every child within the public school system – more than 90% of all students in Texas – has access to a great education.

On the issue of choice…

Vouchers benefit select groups of students and often only those who can afford to supplement the amount of the voucher to afford private school. Additionally, private schools choose who they want to admit. So whose “choice” are we talking about?

Contrary to the rhetoric, school choice is already a reality in Texas, and recent legislation opened the doors to even more options. The public school system offers neighborhood schools, magnet schools, charter schools, district charter schools, and the option for students to transfer to other district schools for various reasons.

The truth is hundreds of thousands of Texas students attend a public school other than the one to which they are assigned.

Where’s the concern over accountability?

For more than a decade, national and Texas public policy has been driven primarily by concerns over accountability related to school performance, curriculum, and student achievement. But guess what – if vouchers were passed, public dollars would go to private schools that are not required to comply with state accountability requirements, open-record laws, or statewide academic standards. So much for accountability.

Don’t forget the budget impact

If vouchers were passed, and a student left the public school for a private school, the dollars from that student would leave the public school budget and go to the private school. And the public school would still have the same fixed costs.

While rural areas would see few students leave the public schools, because of the low number of private schools in those communities, don’t make the mistake of thinking the statewide budget impacts of vouchers wouldn’t impact rural schools too. They absolutely would.

Oh, and on the topic of higher student achievement

The evidence on the impact of vouchers on student achievement is mixed at best–with some studies finding no benefit, and even those that do finding small gains that are not statistically significant.

So let’s recap

If vouchers passed, only some would benefit from expanded “choice.” Choice already exists in public schools. Private schools aren’t as accountable as public schools. Public schools would lose more of their budget, while still having the same fixed costs. Student achievement differences are negligible.

Vouchers are bad for Texas, bad for Texas schools, and bad for most Texas students.

It is time to redirect our energies to what really influences student achievement and school performance. Here is what we believe needs to happen to realize meaningful school reform, based on independent research and practice-proven approaches:

Give every child a fair shot at success in school and life and improve schools with full-day, high-quality prekindergarten. Ensure quality teachers are in every classroom and strong leaders at the helm of every school. Give schools the resources and support they need to innovate and address the unique needs of every student.

Agree? Then join us. Together, we can make a real difference for all Texas students.

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