Only have a minute? Listen instead

The Texas Legislature has once again been called back to Austin to pass an education savings account voucher program that legislators in the House have rebuffed time and time again. These vouchers would provide up to $10,500 for some individuals to attend private schools. Proponents of these entitlements say that families should be able to choose the schools that are right for their kids, but it’s the private schools that get the choice under the proposals being considered in Austin. The bills allow schools to pick and choose which students they accept and to charge more in tuition than what the voucher would be worth.

In other states with similar programs, we’ve seen that those who are availing themselves of these vouchers were largely already attending private schools, and some states either saw private school tuitions increase or fly-by-night schools opening and charging the exact amount of the voucher. It’s important to note that 40% of private schools that opened after vouchers were approved in various states are now closed.

Current voucher proposals also don’t require a private school to provide free or reduced-price meals, transportation or the vital social services upon which many economically disadvantaged students in the Rio Grande Valley rely. Public schools provide all of this and more.

The truth is that public schools in Texas are providing a quality education to the 5 million students they, especially in the Rio Grande Valley. Our public schools have all earned either A or B ratings by the Texas Education Agency and are recognized for their outstanding performance across the state.

A voucher program would divert funds away from our public schools to unaccountable private schools and threaten our success. Our schools are already feeling the financial pinch of crippling inflation and other rising costs as the state has failed to increase per-pupil funding since 2019. Districts across the state are having to adopt deficit budgets just to provide the same services as years past, but this cannot be sustained. At some point, district leaders will need to start making difficult decisions such as reducing staff and cutting services.

And for those claiming that competition would improve all schools, vouchers don’t create a competitive marketplace. Competition is based on an even playing field. In Texas, private schools play by different rules than those established by the state for public schools. For example, public schools must enroll any student who comes through their doors, while private schools can choose to accept or reject any student. In fact, most private religious schools in Texas reject 15% of all applicants while “elite” private schools reject 80% of all applicants. That does not seem like a real choice for students.

In the end, using public tax dollars to fund private institutions with no accountability to taxpayers or the state is a bad idea. It’s bad for children, it’s bad for the Valley, and it’s bad for Texas.

George H. McShan is a former member of the Harlingen school board.

George H. McShan