Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Killer V's

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

We shouldn't be surprised, but it is amazing nonetheless. In a legislative session supposedly focused on equitable funding of public schools, look at what they're talking about: funding private schools and homeschoolers.

Excuse us? The funding thus far proposed for public schools barely makes up for previous budget cuts. It also comes up $1 billion short of what a district judge has said is adequate.

We're told that's all the money the Legislature can spring for public schools. Yet look:

* House Bill 1263 could take as much as $600 million from the state's eight largest school districts in the first two years – that money going to church-run and private schools through school vouchers.

* House Bill 1445 would spend $23 million over two years to provide computers and learning materials for more than 300,000 homeschoolers connected to "virtual" schools.

On cost alone, these bills should be spiked. They can't be rationalized at a time when lawmakers appear ready to play "chicken" with Travis County District Judge John Dietz. He has ruled that school funding must not only be equitable but also adequate. If it isn't, he's threatened to shut schools down in the fall.

Voucher proponents say their legislation's price tag is minimal since when students transfer, schools have fewer costs. But fixed costs – heating, cooling, maintenance – remain even if a few students leave. Vouchers are a direct and substantial funding cut.

Though the voucher bill would apply to only a few districts, in 2010 it could involve any school district if the school board votes to participate.

And Texans should be wary of a "pilot" program. It sounds innocuous. However, look how the "pilot" program of charter schools took off at a mad gallop long before the state had any means of guaranteeing that state dollars were being spent appropriately or that students were benefiting.

As for funding homeschoolers, the state has no business doing it. Families are entitled to homeschool their children but not to receive state funding for it.

Indeed, vouchers and "virtual" schools would create costly new entitlements and require new educational bureaucracy, not exactly the platform on which the Republican leadership ran.

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