Archive for the ‘vouchers’ Category

Using Tragedy to Push Voucher Schemes

January 9, 2012

It looks like anything is fair game for anti-public school fanatics. Peggy Venable, who directs the Texas office of (David and Charles Koch-funded) Americans for Prosperity, put up this odious Twitter post last week after police shot and killed an eighth-grade student in Brownsville:

AFP-Texas tweeted the same thing.

“School choice,” of course, is code for private school vouchers. During the 2011 Texas legislative session, Venable’s group supported a radical voucher scheme that could have diverted billions of dollars from the state’s public schools to private and religious schools. The bill would actually have had the state of Texas (not counting local or federal funds) pay more for a student to attend a private school than a public school. Venable was also thrilled that the Legislature slashed more than $5 billion in funding for public schools from the current two-year budget.

Now she is using the horrifying and tragic death of a junior high school student to push her anti-public education agenda. How cold and shameful.

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2011 Lege Wrap Up: Vouchers

July 1, 2011

Tea Party, and religious-right and other anti-government fanatics launched full-scale attacks on public education, religious freedom and women’s health in the regular and special sessions of the Texas Legislature this year. Over the next week, TFN Insider will recap what happened on major TFN issues during the two sessions. Up today: private school vouchers.

Voucher advocates made two major efforts to pass an  enormously expensive scheme to drain billions of dollars from Texas public schools — a last-minute amendment to a major budget bill in the regular session and a stand-alone bill, HB 33, in the special session. Both of those efforts to subsidize private and religious schools through so-called “taxpayer savings grants” failed in the face of solid opposition from TFN, our partners in the Coalition for Public Schools and other supporters of public education.

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A Misleading Case for Private School Vouchers

June 7, 2011

Late on Monday night, a Texas House committee took testimony on a massive school voucher bill that would siphon billions of tax dollars away from already cash-strapped public schools to pay for tuition at private and religious schools. This legislation was crafted as a proposed amendment (that never made it to the House floor) to budget legislation during the regular legislative session, but state Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, has re-filed it in the current special session as HB 33.

HB 33 doesn’t specifically mention vouchers, instead calling the scheme a “Taxpayer Savings Grant Program.” But make no mistake — this is a voucher program through and through. And not only is it huge (open to nearly every public school student in the state), it apparently would also force the state to be more generous in its per-student funding for private schools than it is for public schools.

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TX Voucher Bill in Committee on Monday

June 3, 2011

On Monday the Government Efficiency and Reform Committee in the Texas House will consider HB 33, which would create a vastly expensive private school voucher scheme at a cost of billions of dollars to neighborhood public schools. The voucher lobby originally wanted to add the so-called “taxpayer savings” grant scheme to a budget bill during the regular legislative session in May. But the scheme’s supporters decided not to offer that amendment in the face of strong opposition from public school advocates.

It’s interesting that the new bill will be heard by the Government Efficiency and Reform Committee instead of the Public Education Committee. Clearly, the voucher lobby is more interested in slashing funds for public education — and diverting that money to private and religious schools — rather than in making neighborhood public schools stronger in Texas.

The Texas Freedom Network and our partners in the Coalition for Public Schools will be at the hearing on Monday. TFN Insider will keep you updated on what happens.

Getting the Public Out of Education

June 2, 2011

The step from demagoguery to enacting real policy change can be remarkably short, and a prime example of this is on full display in Texas right now.

In 2003 state Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, had this to say about the state’s obligation to provide public education for its citizens:

“Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education, free medical care, free whatever? It comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell. And it’s cleverly disguised as having a tender heart. It’s not a tender heart. It’s ripping the heart out of this country.”

At the time, Riddle’s remarks were roundly decried as a dangerous, fringe opinion.

Fast forward to 2011, when state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, says almost the same thing, albeit in more diplomatic language. Acknowledging that the school finance plan currently under consideration does away with the longstanding guarantee that Texas schools would get enough money to provide a basic, foundational education for each student, Patrick is quoted in today’s Austin American-Statesman:

“[The school finance change in the new budget] is a true cut in an entitlement… There are no guarantees, and for a Legislature to say we can guarantee this forever is not being straightforward to the people.”

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TX Special Session: Public Education at Risk

May 31, 2011

*UPDATE: Moments after TFN posted this entry on Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, filed a massive private school voucher proposal, which goes by the Orwellian title of “taxpayer savings grants.” The bill number is HB 33 in the newly reordered nomenclature of the special legislative session, but it is not a new idea. It is the same voucher scheme that Miller and host of conservative groups tried to sneak into the budget in the closing days of the regular session.

The Texas Legislature began a special session this morning, the day after the regular session ended without the passage of several key pieces of legislation. That failed legislation included several bills involving public education. Gov. Rick Perry has asked the Legislature to focus on measures that will “allow school districts to operate more efficiently,” which means this special session could be critical to the future of public education in Texas. In addition to imposing billions of dollars in budget cuts on public schools, the far right could use the special session to advance a number of its long-standing goals – establishing a private school voucher scheme in Texas and expanding the State Board of Education’s authority over curriculum and textbooks. We saw attempts to do both during the regular legislative session.

It’s critical that supporters of public education stay engaged during this special session. You can help the Texas Freedom Network support strong public schools in three ways:

We will have a more detailed legislative wrap up on all of TFN’s issues in the coming days.

Voucher Lobby Targets Texas Public Schools

May 17, 2011

Update: The voucher amendment was authored by state Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, and will be offered as part of Senate Bill 1811. The text of the amendment can be found here.

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We have just learned that voucher advocates plan to seek a vote in the Texas House of Representatives tomorrow (Wednesday, May 18) on a truly radical scheme to take billions of taxpayer dollars from neighborhood public schools to subsidize tuition at private and religious schools across the state. This brazen assault on public education comes as Texas lawmakers are already considering billions of dollars in other cuts to the state’s budget for neighborhood schools.

It’s critical that supporters of public education move quickly to stop this reckless and irresponsible attack on the future of nearly 5 million Texas schoolchildren. Read on to find out more about this new development and how you can take action.

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Poll: Texans Fed Up with Education Wars

July 13, 2010

Today the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund released results from a statewide survey of what Texans think about the intersection of politics and religion with public schools. We released results from two questions back in May. One showed overwhelming support for putting teachers and scholars, instead of politicians on the State Board of Education, in charge of writing curriculum and textbook requirements. Another revealed that nearly 7 in 10 Texans agree that separation of church and state is a key principle of the Constitution.

Today we released the full results of the public survey. You can read highlights of the report in the press release below and read the full report here. But this is the key point: Texans are fed up with politicians dragging our children public schools into unnecessary and divisive culture war battles that promote personal and political agendas of state board members. They want the state board and our public schools to just educate Texas students and prepare them to succeed in college and their future careers. You can help reform the state board and protect the education of Texas schoolchildren by joining our Just Educate campaign today.

Below is the press release we sent out today.

A new statewide survey shows Texans overwhelmingly support reforming the way the state sets requirements for curriculum and textbooks in public schools and reject key “culture war” positions the right has taken regarding public education.

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Voucher Lobby: Still Misleading Texans

June 3, 2010

Empower Texans (ET), a relatively new and aggressive pro-vouchers group, is continuing the far right’s campaign to undermine confidence in Texas public schools.

In May, ET president Michael Quinn Sullivan made statements focused on school spending and the ratio of teachers to non-teachers that are, at best, deliberately misleading. Example: Sullivan noted that there are almost as many non-teachers as teachers in Texas schools, suggesting that all of those non-teachers are “bureaucrats”:

“Do we really need one non-teacher for every teacher on the public school payroll? . . . Hey, we’ve got bureaucrats to play. What value do they bring to the classroom? Very little.”

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Another Blow to School Voucher Schemes

August 20, 2009

A variety of studies in recent years have revealed that private school voucher schemes don’t live up to their promises of giving families better options and improving public schools through competition. Now a new study reveals that private schools most available to the low-income families that vouchers are supposed to help tend not to offer academic benefits over public schools.

The report, Private Schooling in the U.S.: Expenditures, Supply, and Policy Implications, comes from an extensive examination of 1,500 private schools nationally. It was jointly published by the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Education Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University.

In short, the report reveals that the cost and quality of private schools is strongly associated with the religious affiliation of the schools. Non-Catholic Christian schools tend to cost the least, but those schools also tend to pay teachers the least, have teachers with the weakest academic records, have higher student-to-teacher ratios, and have the lowest student test scores. According to the study, Catholic schools tend to approximate public schools in those categories.

More expensive private schools — many of them Hebrew and independent (generally not religiously affiliated) day schools — typically spend more on education resources, but often their tuition costs aren’t even close to covered by vouchers (which typically are worth about the cost of educating a student in public schools). As a result, many of those better-performing private schools remain out of the reach of even low-income families with vouchers.

So what does this mean? Vouchers often take money from neighborhood schools to pay tuition at nonpublic schools that typically don’t do a better job educating their students. Worse, as the Texas Freedom Network has repeatedly pointed out, those voucher schools don’t have to meet the same standards as public schools and are unaccountable to taxpayers. Such a deal, right?

Click here for a press release about the study.

Texas House Reaffirms Opposition to Vouchers

April 17, 2009

The Texas House has just voted 122-22 to bar any public funding for private school voucher schemes in the next state budget. We just released the following statement from Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller:

“We saw schemes to drain money from public schools to pay for vouchers divide this Legislature for more than a decade. Just four years ago, the voucher lobby came within a handful of votes of passing such a scheme in the House. Now we’ve seen Texas House members overwhelmingly reject vouchers for two straight sessions, and we commend them for it.
 
The message is clear: vouchers are about as popular in Texas as a panicked skunk at a church picnic. Now our lawmakers should focus on providing the resources our neighborhood schools need to provide a quality public education for all Texas schoolchildren.”

Stem Cells, Vouchers Could See House Votes

April 17, 2009

The Texas House of Representatives today is taking up the state’s budget bill. Yesterday the Texas Freedom Network sent out the following Action Alert:

Upcoming House Budget Debate Will Include Critical Votes on Stem Cell Research and Vouchers

Two crucially important issues will be debated when the Texas House of Representatives takes up the state budget (SB 1) starting this Friday. Lawmakers need to hear from Texans like you encouraging them to do the right thing — and letting them know we are watching their vote on these issues. These could be the most important votes on these issues this session.

Please take a moment to call your own state representative, and ask her or him to:

– NO on all amendments to SB 1 that would ban funding for stem cell research in Texas.

– OPPOSE VOUCHERS by voting YES on any amendment that would prohibit the use of any state funds to pay private school tuition.

(Click here to find contact information for your representative.)

And after you call, contact Val or Judie in our Outreach Office to let them know how your representative responded. This information is extremely helpful as we try to keep track of where House members stand on these issues.

Background information and simple talking points appear below to help you prepare for your call. This is our chance to slam the door on vouchers this session, as well as send a strong message that Texas will not close its doors to promising medical research that provides hope for so many.

Stem Cell Research

Background: The budget bill approved by the Senate last month included a rider banning public funding for embryonic stem cell research in Texas.

Why should lawmakers oppose adding this funding ban to the House budget bill?

– Controversial policies like this should be fully debated in stand-alone legislation — not  attached to the state budget bill and passed without proper consideration.

– Experts believe embryonic stem cell research provides the most hope for those who suffer from many debilitating and incurable diseases.

– Supporting stem cell research is good for Texas, good for business and good for science. As a home to highly respected medical institutions like M.D. Anderson in Houston, Texas has long been a leader in innovative medical research and treatments. Stem cells offer a new frontier for Texas medical researchers.

– Already scientists are leaving Texas to work in states that are not hostile to this groundbreaking research.

Vouchers

Background: Two years ago, House members overwhelming voted to prohibit the use of state funds to pay private or religious school tuition (127-8). The same amendment has been proposed this year. A clear prohibition in the budget would end the possibility of any voucher schemes in the coming biennium.

Why should lawmakers vote for an amendment banning public funding for private school vouchers?

– Vouchers drain needed funds from our neighborhood public schools. 

– Lawmakers should focus on properly funding and supporting public schools that educate all Texas kids.

Voucher Bills Again at the Texas Capitol

April 6, 2009

Proposed schemes for private school vouchers — which drain money from neighborhood public schools to pay for tuition at private and religious schools — have sparked heated battles in Texas legislative sessions since the 1990s. Tomorrow the Senate Education Committee will take up two key voucher bills.

Senate Bill 1301 by Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, would provide vouchers for students with autism and autism spectrum disorder. SB 183 by Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, would create a broader voucher program for students with disabilities.

All Texas kids, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, deserve a quality education in Texas public schools. But voucher schemes aren’t the answer. Why? Among the reasons:

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Sec. Spellings, Meet the Facts

July 8, 2008

A Republican Congress instituted the first federally funded private school voucher program, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, in the District of Columbia in 2004. The program was a political victory for far-right groups and individuals such as voucher sugardaddy James Leininger of Texas. But it looked likely to fade out of existence due to the efforts of the current Democratic-controlled Congress.

Yet U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is doing her darndest to keep it alive.

See Secretary Spellings’ column appearing in yesterday’s Washington Post:

Signed into law by President Bush four years ago, the program is the first to provide federally funded education vouchers to students. It awards up to $7,500 per child for tuition, transportation and fees; in 2007-08 it enabled 1,900 students from the underperforming Washington public school system — the highest total yet — to attend the private or religious schools of their choice.

Now, let’s look at what Spellings has to say in favor of the program.

First she says that parents like the voucher program, but that’s a non-starter. There are also families who are like their neighborhood public schools. The issue is whether it is wise public policy to divert to private and religious schools millions of dollars that would otherwise fund public schools for the vast majority of our schoolchildren.

Second, Spellings writes that a study released last year by the Institute of Education Sciences found that voucher students improved academic performance by voucher students.

Really? In a story published last month by the Post regarding the study she cites, we find that, in fact:

Students in the D.C. school voucher program . . . generally did no better on reading and math tests after two years than public school peers, a U.S. Education Department report said yesterday. . . . The findings mirror those in previous studies of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program . . .

And the IES’ study itself says in its abstract:

Students in the program did not report being more satisfied or feeling safer than those who were not in the program.

Did Sec. Spellings even read the report? If so, then she would have also seen this:

[The same study] found that some participating private schools lacked proper permits to operate. It has also been faulted for allowing ineligible families to receive federal funds and for failing to ensure that families selected accredited schools.

Unfortunately, for now, the program continues.

Efforts to drain money from public schools in order to serve special interests and businesses will continue, both in Texas and nationally. It’s important everyone get involved in saving their neighborhood schools.