We’ve been hearing about vouchers since Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst named Sen. Dan Patrick to be Chair of the Senate Education Committee, but we haven’t heard – or at least, I haven’t seen – a lot of information about what exactly that would mean. This Chron op-ed by Ronald Trowbridge brings some facts and figures and gives a starting point for engagement on the issue.
A new proposed model now under consideration in Texas is called Taxpayer Savings Grants (TSG). But this model is fatally flawed. First, very few students would be able to use the grants (vouchers) because private-school tuition balances are too expensive. Second, private schools would not have the capacity to enroll large increases in student admissions. Third, grants would also subsidize relatively wealthy students already attending private schools. Four, the model opens the possibility, if not probability, that government subsidies (vouchers) to private schools could come with controlling political strings attached.
Proponents of TSG argue that the public school system would save $3,000 for every student who transfers to a private school and that “just under 7 percent of students would take advantage” of a $5,143 voucher to attend a private school.
Let’s look at the arithmetic. The Texas Education Agency reports that public-school enrollment K-12 in Texas in 2010-11 was 4,933,617 students. Seven percent would total 345,353 students. Private-school enrollment in 2009, reports the National Center for Education Statistics, was 313,360. There is no way private schools would have the capacity to enroll 345,353 more students.
Meanwhile, students already attending private schools would also receive the same $5,143 voucher per student. For 313,360 students already attending private schools, the cost to state government would total $161 million a year.
Here’s another serious problem with TSG: The public student transferring to a private school must pay the difference between the $5,143 voucher and the full price of tuition at the private school. If tuition is, say, $12,000 per year, parents would have to come up with the $6,857 difference. Private-school tuition often runs in the range of $10,000 to $20,000.
What’s more, private schools will do precisely what colleges do when stipends for Pell grants are increased: raise tuition. So the private school will raise tuition to, say, $13,000, and parents will have to pay the difference between $5,143 and $13,000.
Most of the 345,353 students would be priced out of the market. What’s more, 2.9 million school kids are on subsidized-lunch programs. These kids could not even dream of attending a private school.
Trowbridge notes that government funding for something inevitably leads to government meddling in, of not control over, that something, the prospect of which you would think might give people like Dan Patrick pause. I’d add in the concern that this is all just a massive subsidy for religious schools, which will have all kinds of questionable things on their curricula, but only if their religion is of the approved kind. There’s also the question about whether these schools would be subject to the same accountability laws as the public schools, which I suppose also goes to Trowbridge’s point about government money coming with strings attached. I feel quite certain that a response from Sen. Patrick or one of his acolytes will be forthcoming, so we’ll see what they have to say about this.