From skeptical Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Bob Ray Sanders:
Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, while vowing to make the next legislative session “the most conservative session in history,” announced an education plan last month that includes “school choice.”
Using a Catholic elementary school near the state Capitol as a backdrop, Dewhurst joined with Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, to unveil a thinly veiled attempt to get state money to private schools.
Trying to avoid being accused of promoting a “voucher system,” their plan calls for tax breaks for businesses that donate money to private school scholarship programs presumably to be used for poor students or those in low-performing public schools.
Dewhurst was quoted by The Texas Tribune as saying he had no problem with children’s parents receiving “a payment from the state and are able to select which school they go to.” But he said that when he talks about “choice,” it could mean “choice to choose schools within a district, potentially across district lines. It’s charter schools. It’s virtual schools. It’s online learning. It’s the secular and religious schools in the private sector.”
Let’s cut through the subterfuge. There is limited choice within districts now — the limitation being that individual schools can accommodate only a certain number of students. That would be the case when talking about any inter-district transfers as well.
What we’re really talking about here is putting state dollars into private schools, a large percentage of them parochial.
Once again, instead of finding more money for public schools, we have state leaders looking for ways to deprive public education of much-needed funding. It seems it wasn’t bad enough that these same leaders voted to cut public education by $5.4 billion in the last legislative session, with no real plan on the horizon to restore it, much less increase funding.
Dewhurst, who lost a bid for the U.S. Senate last year partly because he wasn’t far enough to the right, indeed may become more conservative. But the people of Texas should not allow his political persuasion or ambition to have a negative impact on the state’s public schools and the almost 5 million students they serve.
The state’s governor and its new commissioner of education also are on record supporting school choice. That’s their prerogative, and presumably their conservative mandate.
Whether or not an idea is a conservative or liberal one, tax credit scholarships are part of the roadmap to universal vouchers. It sounds so very Florida too. It’s long been part of the legislative agenda of Jeb Bush’s foundation. They obviously provided assistance in writing legislation. From KUT News reporter Nathan Bernier in October 2012:
Republican State Sen. Dan Patrick, the new chairman of the Senate Education Committee, took invited testimony in August from Matthew Lander, a policy adviser with a pro-voucher group in Florida called the (Jeb Bush run) Foundation for Excellence in Education.
“Texas has clearly been a leader in education reform, but in this area, it is not at the forefront,” Lander said.
But that could change. Patrick is a vocal supporter of school vouchers. He was appointed to the committee chair by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who sets the legislative agenda for the Senate. And Gov. Rick Perry told the Texas Tribune in August that market principles applied to public education could provide options for children in failing schools.
“I’m for competition in our public schools,” Perry said. “I don’t know why anyone shouldn’t be for competition in our public schools. The way it exhibits itself in a lot of different ways. The idea that we shouldn’t have that conversation is a bit foreign to me.”
Knowing a straight “voucher” plan to be toxic, Bush’s foundation likely advised an incremental step in a tax-credit scholarship plan which mirrors Florida’s. The same Florida administrator, Step Up for Students, could open up a Texas office to administrate the tax credit program just like they do in Florida, all the while pulling down a tidy $6.9 million in management fees And how cozy: there’s already a willing business which operates in Texas who took advantage of Florida’s tax credit voucher plan.
Perry’s trick to ask a rhetorical question to disarm critics is a common one used by the privatization industry. But no better wink and a nod patronage exists for state politicians to manipulate. Just make a donation for our pet charity and we’ll give you a tax break. We’ll just call it a tax credit. And it’s about school choice and for the children, you see.