The political battle over Texas public schools is heating up as the legislative session shifts into gear. In addition to arguments over whether to restore $5.4 billion cut from public education in 2011, two high profile Senate Republicans want a school voucher system that would give low income students a shot at attending a private school. But critics say all vouchers do is strip money from the public education system and hand it over to private schools.
“We’re going to allow businesses to deduct up to 25 percent of what they would pay in the franchise tax, and that money will go to a non-profit to be distributed to families based on need," State Senator Dan Patrick has explained. "By doing this, we are going to give them an opportunity to get a scholarship if they so choose to send their child to that private school.” So-called "tax credit scholarships" exist in about a dozen states.
On Thursday, a nonprofit group, the Coalition for Public Schools, argued fiercely against the measure. In a news conference at the Capitol, the Coalition said the State needs to invest more in the existing public school system.
"They cut 5.4 billion dollars," said Julie Shields, a member of the Coalition and a legislative expert with the Texas Association of School Boards.
"Why is the State, which can’t make its commitment right now to Texas public school students, looking to do something in the private sector, where again there is no financial and academic accountability."
Lt. Gov. Dewhurst has argued that a school voucher system would provide parents with more choices and increase competition among schools to improve their performance and attract students and funding.
"We need to make it easy for parents to determine the destiny of their children," he argued in a news conference in December.
Shields countered that public school students attending campuses that fail to meet state academic benchmarks can already transfer to other schools. She says it’s the same for students who are bullied or those who have disabilities.
“People believe in their public schools and students have choices within the public school," Shields said. "Our biggest concern with all of this is accountability, both financial and academic. And we have that currently in the public education system.”