Privatization and Deregulation
Texas public schools fulfill the state’s constitutional obligation to provide an adequate and equitable education to all students. Accordingly, ATPE believes the public schools deserve full state funding and support. ATPE opposes private school vouchers and any other privatization programs that direct public funding and resources away from public schools to private individuals or entities.
A traditional voucher program grants families a payment or tax credit using public funds to help pay for private school tuition, homeschooling, or related expenses. Newer privatization proposals include the use of an Education Savings Account (ESA) in which public funds are reserved for use by students pursuing private education or home school options, as well as enabling individuals or companies to receive tax credits or incentives in exchange for their contributions to a “scholarship” fund for students’ private school tuition and costs.
Virtual schools have long been used as another vehicle for attempted privatization. Virtual learning options have been available to Texas public school students in limited circumstances for many years. More broadly, public schools have operated in a full-time virtual environment on a temporary, emergency basis (such as during the COVID-19 pandemic when school campuses were forced to close). However, privatization advocates have called for expanding all students’ access to full-time, state-funded virtual schools that may be operated by private companies. ATPE members believe full-time virtual schools, especially when operated by private entities, equate to voucher programs for home-schooled students.
An ancillary issue is the privatization of public schools through charters. Although charter schools are considered public schools, they are deregulated—often to the detriment of students—and subjected to lower educational standards, governed by private individuals rather than elected school boards, and funded differently from their traditional public school counterparts. Increasingly, Texas policymakers have allowed charter operators to expand their presence in the state and even take over the management of public school campuses or districts.
Meanwhile, public school districts have sought ways to enjoy the same flexibility as charter schools through deregulation. For example, many school districts took advantage of a 2015 state law that allows them to become a District of Innovation (DOI). With minimal effort and oversight, DOIs can exempt themselves from various education laws and rules, enabling the districts to operate in a manner similar as a charter school.
The more public schools are exempted from traditional education laws and rules while continuing to receive public funding, the more they start to resemble private schools funded by vouchers.
- Proponents of privatization typically use verbiage such as “school choice” and “educational freedom,” and they complain that students are “trapped in failing public schools” and have a “civil right” to attend a private school of their choice at taxpayer expense. Vouchers and related proposals often target students with special needs or families living in poverty. Voucher supporters may highlight information they believe illustrates the failures of public schools, including “A-F” accountability grades and criticism of curriculum standards, in an attempt to show a “need” for vouchers, despite the fact that student achievement data, graduation rates, and other objective measures reveal Texas public schools to be superior to their private school counterparts.
- Opponents of privatization believe all voucher-type programs suffer from a lack of accountability to the public for how well they educate students, how they govern their schools, and how they spend their resources. Also, myriad state and federal regulations, including those that protect students’ rights, are practically unenforceable for private or home-based schools. Charter schools and other state-funded, deregulated school settings also present a greater risk that students’ educational quality will suffer, and that taxpayers and parents will have fewer means of holding those schools accountable.
ATPE does not oppose privately funded scholarship programs aimed at providing opportunities for students with special needs or circumstances, and we fully support parents’ right to choose whether to enroll their children in public or private schools or to home-school them. However, we believe public schools must remain public, and taxpayer resources should be reserved for public schools.
Read our member-adopted ATPE Legislative Program to learn more about our positions on privatization and deregulation. Find additional information about ATPE’s advocacy efforts related to these issues on our Teach the Vote blog. For additional resources, visit the website of the anti-voucher Coalition for Public Schools, of which ATPE is a founding member.