For a long time, “reform” has been the most abused word in the political arena surrounding education, and now it has a strong competitor – “choice,” as in school choice.
In the correct meaning of the word, reform describes an action that improves something. Most of the self-styled education “reformers” who will be pontificating at the state Capitol over the next few months don’t want to improve our public schools. They want to milk money from them for their own privatization schemes, such as private school vouchers , corporate charters or online learning courses, where teachers are an afterthought.
The big privatization push this session will be vouchers, which advocates, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, are trying to deliberately soft-pedal as school choice. They claim falsely that vouchers will give low-income parents in neighborhoods with struggling schools the “choice” to send their children to good private schools. Remember that poor “working mom” in the inner city that Patrick wrung his hands over in his inaugural address last week?
The reality is that vouchers wouldn’t do that mom or thousands of other working parents just like her any good. Vouchers wouldn’t give them a choice in schools. That’s because vouchers wouldn’t come close to covering the full cost of tuition at most private schools, particularly the better facilities, and low-income families wouldn’t be able to afford the difference. Nor would vouchers cover the transportation costs of getting kids to school.
A voucher bill filed by state Sen. Donna Campbell would cap each voucher at 60 percent of what the state is spending now on each public school student. During the 2013-14 school year, the state spent an average of $8,998 per student, based on average daily attendance. Sixty percent of that is about $5,400.Compare that with private school tuition rates in Texas as high as $26,000 a year, or more, for many schools.
The only real choice would reside with parents who make a lot more money than that inner-city mom. And many of them already can afford their own private school tuition without state assistance. Choice also would rest with the private schools, who would have their pick of students bearing tax dollars. In a private education system, the students don’t choose the schools. The schools choose the students.
Texas cannot afford to pay for two separate school systems: a private system for its more affluent families and a public system, weakened by the diversion of tax dollars from already underfunded schools, for everyone else.