Thursday, February 08, 2007

Voucher plan is not best for Texas students

Voucher plan is not best for Texas students


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Voucher proposals that spend taxpayers' money to send students to private schools would have not fared well in Texas.

A sizeable majority of Texans wants their tax money going to the local public schools, not private academies and religious schools. The huge rally at the Capitol on Wednesday to lobby the Legislature for a pilot voucher program isn't going to change that dynamic.

Legislators answer to voters in their home districts, not the organized lobby pushing a voucher project that takes money from public schools and spends it in private ones. Lawmakers have rejected voucher plans in the past and should do so with the one being proposed for this session.

San Antonio physician James Leininger has spent millions of dollars over much of the past two decades trying to launch a voucher project in Texas, so far without success. He has invested huge amounts of his own fortune in two voucher — he calls them scholarship — programs in San Antonio. He has also given millions to political campaigns aimed at electing pro-voucher candidates and defeating anti-voucher ones. He lost big on that gamble last year when five candidates he supported were defeated at the polls.

Leininger's personal philanthropy in San Antonio is admirable. And his dedication to the cause he has given so much of his life and resources to — school choice — is unquestioned. He seems to genuinely care about the education of disadvantaged, inner-city students.

But his tactics are questionable, and Leininger acknowledges that his efforts to manipulate the Legislature through large campaign donations backfired. More to the point, the school choice system he is pushing does not work for millions of Texas students.

Leininger, whose business fortune helped fund Wednesday's Capitol rally, fervently believes students trapped in failing schools should have the option of a better public school or a private one. And he just as fervently believes that the state should provide at least some of the money for those who seek a private education.

Urban districts do have problems, and far too many Texas students are trapped in failing schools. But sending tax dollars away from those schools and into private ones will not help troubled schools improve. Leininger's heart is in the right place, but the course he has chosen is wrong.

The best answer for the more than 4 million Texans in public schools is to use state and local expertise, dedication and resources to improve those schools. A voucher program that gives part of those resources to private entities will, in the long run, harm the public schools.

A vital part of the social compact we all live with is the system of public schools. Our focus, locally and nationally, should be on making that system work as well as it possibly can. Pulling the best and most motivated students from the public schools through a voucher program eventually will cripple the system, possibly beyond repair.

That may be what some of the school choice advocates would like to see. But for most Texans, that is a future too bleak to imagine, much less support.

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