Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has been putting his years at KSEV talk radio to good use lately: Take a bad idea, dress it up with talking points such as “tax credit,” “freedom,” and “religion,” and like-minded Texans will eat it up like free samples at Costco.
His latest pet project –– Senate Bill 4, sponsored by Larry Taylor, chairperson of the Senate’s education committee –– would allow parents to use state funds to pay for tuition at private or religious schools through a tax credit program.
Public school advocacy groups fear the voucher program will cut much-needed funding from an already bootstrapped education system. Texas, according to the National Education Association, ranks 40th in public school funding. State-level cuts of $5.5 billion two years ago didn’t help much either.
Last week, Patrick defended his idea before the education committee.
“Giving a handful of students an opportunity for a better school in situations where they don’t have a choice is not going to impact public education,” he said.
Texas Freedom Network directors aren’t buying it. Members of the public welfare advocacy group have testified against SB4 and similar voucher proposals, all coming from Republican legislators.
“I think Patrick and his colleagues should stop setting up public schools to fail by cutting their funding, asking them to do more with less, and when they struggle turn around and punish them by taking even more money out to give to private religious schools instead,” said Dan Quinn, Freedom Network spokesperson.
The Texas State Teachers Association also has weighed in. Clay Robison, spokesperson for the nonprofit group that represents public school teachers and advocates for public school interests, said in an e-mail that the vouchers proposed by SB4 would be of little help to most working families.
“Texas, which already under-funds its public schools, cannot afford to spend money on what would amount to a new, separate private school system for a relative handful of students,” Robison said. “Despite the claims of proponents, most low-income families would be unable to send their children to private schools, even with vouchers, because vouchers wouldn’t cover the cost of tuition at many schools, and the legislation, at least so far, wouldn’t require private schools to provide transportation.”
The path to better public schools, Quinn said, involves supporting school models that are thriving and restoring the recently cut $5.5 billion, not by stealing more money from school coffers.
“We have no problem with religious schools,” he said. “I think it’s a good option for families, but [those schools can function] without public tax dollars. We still have elected leaders in the state who are more interested in helping private and religious schools than ensuring the vast majority of kids who go to public schools get a good education. That’s very troubling. The state constitution requires the legislature to fund a quality public school system. It says nothing about private and religious schools.”