| Any day now could bring news of the pre-filing of major voucher legislation in the Texas legislature for the 2013 regular session beginning January 8. One significant voucher bill, SB 115 by Sen. Tommy Williams, Republican of The Woodlands, already has been pre-filed. SB 115 creates a voucher scheme for students with disabilities. Senate Education Committee chair Dan Patrick, Republican of Houston, has declared his intention to file a broader bill promoting what he, like Sen. Williams, prefers to call "school choice."
By whatever name its authors choose, voucher legislation is still a bad idea-a surefire way to undermine public education, especially when the state legislature and state leaders have just cut school budgets drastically while demanding higher levels of performance.
To help you limber up for the voucher battles to come over specific legislative proposals, Texas AFT has prepared a generic anti-voucher letter you can send to your current state senator and state representative citing some of the most important problems with this generically flawed concept. Here's the link to the letter, which you can send directly via e-mail from the Texas AFT Web site. (As a result of the November 6 elections, you may have a new state senator or representative come January 8. We'll post an updated version of this voucher letter for your use when that new crop of lawmakers is sworn in.)
Key points made in the letter include these:
--Vouchers eliminate public accountability. Vouchers channel tax dollars into private schools that do not face state-approved academic standards, do not make budgets public, do not adhere to open meetings and records laws, do not publicly report on student achievement, and do not face the public accountability requirements contained in state and federal laws, including special-education laws. They also do not have to accept all students.
--Vouchers divert attention, commitment, and dollars from public schools to subsidize private-school tuition for a few students, including many who already attend private school, creating new costs for taxpayers. A dollar spent on a tuition voucher is a dollar drained from public education.
--Vouchers are no way to raise student achievement for all. Despite built-in screening advantages for private schools, reports on voucher experiments in cities such as Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Washington, D.C., show these programs have not been successful in raising student academic achievement. In fact, vouchers leave behind many disadvantaged students because private schools may not accept them or do not offer the special services they need.