Why Vouchers are Bad for Business
Despite Texas currently ranking in the bottom quarter for public school funding, Governor Abbott has shown support for private school vouchers, reviving a subject that the legislature has entertained since the mid-1990s. The Senate has passed voucher bills, they have failed in the House each session. As the state heads into the 88th Session increased support for private school vouchers has many public education and business leaders worried for the future of public education funding.
The Coalition for Public Schools defines vouchers as “anything that diverts public funds (through a tax credit, rebate, scholarship or any other means) to directly or indirectly subsidize a private education … [V]ouchers allow students to be privately educated at the expense of public taxpayers.”
Rural Republican House members have voted against vouchers because diverting tax dollars from the public sector to private schools represents a crippling funding loss for the bedrock of rural Texas. For urban Texans, shifting education money towards private schools can cause an enrollment decline by shifting student populations out of the district, thereby raising their property wealth per student and pushing them into recapture – where under the “Robin Hood” plan of state funding they must send local tax money to the state.
This is already happening due to unfettered charter school growth, even though charter schools often perform no better than traditional schools. Austin ISD sent over $710 million in local taxpayer funds to the state in 2020-21. Rising property values and declining enrollment translate into a higher burden for property taxpayers in these areas. Recapture has tripled over the last few years until it now accounts for over $6 billion of the state’s biannual budget. Vouchers would only exacerbate this problem.
For business leaders, the public school system accounts for over 90% of their future workforce. Texas educates about 5.4 million students with only a small percentage in private and home schools. At a time when Texas needs to ramp up their workforce development education it seems foolhardy to consider shifting funds away from the bulk of that workforce toward private entities.
Finally, many Texans have ethical problems with vouchers. Besides being a tuition supplement to the affluent who already send their children to private schools, the concept of giving public taxpayer money to private schools is anathema to some, and not all private schools should want it. If the history of public education litigation has taught us anything, it’s that once a private school starts to receive government funds, they will be subject to governmental regulations. One can imagine future court cases where conservative religious schools will be forced to accommodate practices that they deem liberal.
Vouchers jeopardize the “wall of separation” between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, a bedrock principle of American democracy. To avoid establishing a single religion, states must be careful to provide vouchers for all private religious schools, be they Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or any other recognized religion.
A recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court further emphasizes that states that use public funds to subsidize private education must make public funding available for students to attend schools that provide religious instruction (Carson v. Makin, 2022). Texans may not be comfortable with this, but it is a voucher system requirement.
While Texas public schools have their problems, shifting public funds away from the sparse resources that many public schools currently have would lead to disastrous outcomes for educators, students, and business leaders. Let’s not make that worse by giving our public funds away to private schools.