When you hear ESAs discussed, think vouchers. This proposal will get a hearing in the Texas Senate on September 14, 2016.
If you want to track this and other legislation this next session which begins officially in January—though hearings have already begun, as you can see—visit and bookmark the Texas Legislature Online.
You can also login and create your own account in the MyTLO section of the Texas Legislature Online so that you can track bills via bill alerts that allow you to follow them as they make their way through the session.
We've not yet begun the session but wanted to give folks a heads up regarding how they can get involved. An immediate step you can take is to reach out to your legislators and staff to tell them how you feel about such proposals. It really can make a difference right now for them to hear from you.
This link tells helps you find who represents you: http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx
Another rough and tumble session, to be sure...
Published 12:00 am, Saturday, September 3, 2016
In July, the Texas Senate Committee on Education announced it will be studying a school choice program using education savings accounts, or ESAs.
ESAs may be a new concept to many Texans, but they’re simply a new form of vouchers that already exist in Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada and Tennessee.
What ESAs amount to is another effort to spend public money on narrow private interests and convert traditional public schools into businesses. This ultimately turns our children into dollar signs and exacerbates already deep racial and socioeconomic inequities.
“Parents apply for the program and un-enroll their child from public school. Next, the state funds an account that parents can use to pay for numerous services related to their child’s education. Parents could pay private school tuition or a tutor, purchase curriculum for homeschooling or a digital learning class, or save some money for college tuition, for example. If parents don’t use all of their ESA dollars in one year, they can roll over the remainder to the next school year.”
In Texas, that’s about $7,800 per student. Additionally, students receiving special education services would be eligible for up to 100 percent of that funding.
ESAs have inherent fiscal issues that remain unaddressed.
Will ESAs be taxable or provide tax benefits like other government savings plans offered to individuals, such as health savings accounts and 529 college plan accounts?
Will ESAs keep up with increasing educational costs?
Will ESAs drastically increase noninstructional education costs, creating more overhead for taxpayers?
How do we safeguard against students being mislabeled for special education, thus giving parents more money than they need?
Additionally, no one has acknowledged students who need additional funding through Title I and bilingual education programs in traditional public schools. Will they receive extra funds?
These questions all need adequate explanations.
Another crucial issue is where this money will come from. Legal issues arise if funding for ESAs comes out of taxpayers’ pockets. ESA proponents in other states have asked for ESA funding to come from public school funds.
While there is no explicit prohibition in Texas on funding education outside of the public school system, ESAs are prohibited from receiving funding from Texas’ school funds.
ESAs fail to meet Texas’ narrow constitutional mandate “to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”
Diverting funds from the support and maintenance of our already underfunded schools and toward private schools that almost always have parochial interests and aren’t held to the standards we set for public schools would be the opposite of that mandate.
ESA proponents want to make the accounts available to all families, including wealthy ones. This means taxpayers could be subsidizing private school tuition for the children of wealthy families, thus giving an unnecessary public handout to the wealthy.
There is also no promise that the best private schools will participate. Do we wish to give handouts to subpar private schools? And what if unsatisfied families bring their children, behind in the curriculum, back to public schools? We’d be setting up those students for failure while later spending additional taxpayer money on their remediation.
This creates problems for those who argue traditional public schools are plagued by wasteful spending and that corporate reforms such as establishing vouchers, charter schools and ESAs would force a more “efficient system of public free schools.
Those who make this claim argue that forcing schools to compete for students — as private businesses compete for customers — pressures traditional public schools to improve academics and frugality, or die in competition. This, according to the theory, benefits students still attending public schools. This hypothetical pressure is often called “the tide that lifts all boats.” But the tide is unfounded. Recent peer-reviewed empirical research has found damning evidence.
Larger school districts most often don’t feel competitive pressures from other school-choice options (of charter schools) for a variety of reasons. In many large urban areas, charter schools effectively enroll additional students from the growth in the school-age population. When charter schools actually drew significant numbers of students from traditional public schools, the effect was dispersed throughout the city and did not produce competitive pressure.
When schools responded to competition, spending more money on academics wasn’t the typical response. Instead, it inspired a variety of responses, with most schools spending more on marketing. Competing schools realized their academic program might be a top-notch product but that it wouldn’t sell without great marketing, just as in the real business world.
In a recent study by Huriya Jabbar, an education researcher and assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin, in New Orleans, where the entire district is made up of charters and parents choose where taxpayer money is spent (as with vouchers), marketing was by far the largest response by schools facing competition.
Other responses to competitive pressures included researching the market for better competitive strategies and avoiding competition by either offering something other schools don’t or circumventing regulations to cherry-pick the best students.
That is one of the worst things about competition in education. It turns kids into good and bad financial investments.
In New Orleans, one principal told Jabbar that “every kid is money.”
In other words, children become small piles of cash for school budgets instead of young humans to develop. Further, students with low test scores become liabilities, making those schools less able to compete in the market. This results in those students being locked out of the best schools and exacerbating already deep racial and socioeconomic inequities.
The imaginary rising tide of school choice only offers these results: schools turning into businesses, kids becoming good and bad money, and an increase in social inequity — all unconstitutionally funded by the taxpayer.
Whether school choice proponents recognize these effects of competition on our education system, the consequences are real and damaging. We don’t need more competition or for our schools to be run like businesses.
Our education system has always needed reform, but not by private corporate interests. Schools don’t need to be owned by corporations. They need to be democratically controlled by the communities they serve.
Schools shouldn’t compete but collaborate, especially with educators.
More important, policymakers and schools should radically increase collaboration with those communities that suffer most from our broken educational system — communities that are largely poor and have extremely high concentrations of minorities.
To this day, listening to these communities and their educators is an educational option we’ve never chosen.
Greg Worthington is a Ph.D. student in the Educational Policy and Planning Program in the Department of Educational Administration at the University of Texas at Austin.
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