Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Voucher bills could cost HISD up to $900 million

April 4, 2005, 9:03PM

But lawmaker disputes figures given by coalition
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

AUSTIN - The Houston school district could lose up to $900 million over the first two years under various private school voucher bills being considered by the Texas Legislature, according to an organization that opposes the proposals.

"Texas lawmakers need to solve school finance problems, not create new ones with vouchers," said Carolyn Boyle, coordinator of the Coalition for Public Schools.

The group released its report on vouchers' potential impact on Houston and other urban school districts Monday, the day before a House committee debates the volatile issue.

The sponsor of one voucher bill, Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, disputed the coalition's numbers. She said her bill would apply to fewer than one-half of 1 percent of the state's 4 million public school students.

"Vouchers will not take any money away from the public schools," said Harper-Brown. "It's strictly a scare tactic."

Boyle said the projections on potential loss of school district funding were based on the maximum number of eligible students using the vouchers. She said the numbers are conservative because they don't include students currently enrolled in private school or home-school students who could qualify for funding.

Voucher proponents, however, have powerful allies. Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick all support a pilot program to allow students in low-performing schools to use taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private schools.

Perry and Dewhurst will speak at a pro-voucher rally today shortly before the House Public Education Committee is scheduled to consider three voucher bills.

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