Privatizers push vouchers in special education funding hearing
School Finance Texas Legislature Privatization | Vouchers
Date Posted: 11/15/2022 | Author: Mark Wiggins
Proponents of school privatization renewed their push for private school vouchers during a meeting of the Texas Commission on Special Education Funding held Monday, Nov. 14, 2022.
The commission was created by House Bill (HB) 1525, which the Texas Legislature passed in 2021. The bill requires the commission “to develop and make recommendations regarding methods of financing special education in public schools.”
The commission met this week to discuss draft recommendations for the upcoming legislative session that include reducing retire/rehire penalties for special education teachers, “intensity-based funding” for special education, a special education transportation allotment, and expanding the Supplementary Special Education Services (SSES) program that Gov. Greg Abbott (R) initiated in 2020. Only invited testimony was heard during the commission's meeting.
The primary focus of Monday’s agenda was a discussion of Education Savings Account (ESA) vouchers, which would withdraw taxpayer dollars from the public school system in order to subsidize tuition at private and parochial schools. Voucher promoters hailed Abbott’s SSES program as “one step away” from a voucher.
Like other vouchers, an ESA would reduce funding to local public schools and increase property taxes. Special education ESAs would also require special education students to surrender their rights to a fair and adequate public education under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
State Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who authored HB 1525 and is a member of the commission, warned that the commission was intended to discuss ways to improve education funding and is not the appropriate venue to debate a voucher program. Respected for his in-depth knowledge and expertise on school finance issues, Huberty did not seek reelection and is wrapping up his term in the Texas House.
Professor Kevin G. Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center, led the day’s discussion with a categorical denunciation of vouchers. Dr. Welner called upon mountains of evidence and research that show vouchers have a detrimental effect on the public education system. To emphasize his point, Welner pointed to data compiled by Michigan State University's Professor Joshua Cowen showing that the impact of vouchers on student outcomes in Ohio was nearly three times more harmful than Hurricane Katrina. (Infographic provided by the National Coalition for Public Education; click the image to view a larger version.) Welner stated the facts unequivocally demonstrate that vouchers do not improve student performance.
Special education advocates echoed Huberty’s warning that vouchers are beyond the commission’s charge, and they highlighted the negative impact of vouchers on an already limited pool of state resources dedicated to a growing number of students in special education.
Steven Aleman with Disability Rights Texas (DRT) reinforced the point that voucher students are forced to surrender protections that public school students have under state and federal laws in exchange for “take it or leave it” private school policies.
Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education (TCASE) Governmental Relations Director and former ATPE Lobbyist Dr. Andrea Chevalier testified that in addition to forcing children to give up their rights, special education vouchers would increase segregation without meaningfully increasing educational choices.
Based on their questions and comments, commission members appeared evenly split over vouchers, and they need to hear from Texas educators who are in the trenches fighting for public school students. ATPE members can send a message to their legislators and other elected officials by using our quick and easy Advocacy Central communication tools.
The commission is expected to meet again Dec. 12 to adopt recommendations and vote on any additions, which may include ESA vouchers. The commission must deliver its report to the Texas Legislature by the end of the year. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.
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