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Vouchers get their Senate hearing

Here we go again with this nonsense.

Senate Bill 3, authored by Republican Sen. Larry Taylor of Friendswood, would establish educational savings accounts and tax credit scholarships to fund various costs associated with parents moving their children from traditional public schools to private, parochial, or charter schools.

In an online payment process, parents could use the accounts, called ESAs, to pay for items like private school tuition, educational software and tutoring for home school students. However, the bill would prohibit parents from using the money for food or child care.

SB 3 would also allow low-income students to qualify for a tax break, Texas businesses can donate to the scholarship fund, according to the proposal.

Senators did not take a vote on SB 3 after Tuesday’s meeting, leaving the matter pending for another day. However, Taylor’s counterpart in the House, Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty of Humble, long has opposed so-called ‘school choice’ measures and said the bill likely is dead on arrival in his committee.

At Tuesday’s hearing, which drew more than 100 witnesses, Taylor defended his bill from charges that it diverts public money from cash-strapped public school districts and gives it to private schools. He said districts would retain some funding in the first year that a student decides to leave a public school, giving it time to adjust without losing all per-pupil money they currently receive from the state.

“Basically, the school will have money without a student. It will actually have more money to spend on the kids who are still there,” he said. “It gives them a year to transition or maybe in the year, to see what they need to do to move their program forward, to be more competitive.”

I’m not going to rehash the arguments for why vouchers (by any name; there’s a reason they have been rebranded as “education savings accounts”) are lousy public policy. Search my archives for “vouchers”, or read this from the CPPP if you need a reminder. Though a vote wasn’t taken at the time of the hearing, the committee did subsequently pass it out on a 7-3 count, with Republican Kel Seliger voting No. This is one of Dan Patrick’s priorities, and a rare bill on which Greg Abbott has an opinion he’s willing to say out loud, so I’m sure it will pass the Senate, and most likely die in the House. This is what victory looks like these days.

In the meantime, there was this.

A number of House members said they have received fraudulent letters in the last couple of months addressed from constituents asking them to back the ESAs.

State Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, was suspicious when his office fielded 520 letters between mid-February and mid-March from constituents of his rural district, who are more likely to oppose private school choice than support it. All the letters were addressed from Austin and had the full names and addresses of each constituent at the bottom.

Springer started making calls. “We talked to a couple of dozen constituents. No one knows where they’re coming from. None of them agree with the positions that they’re even taking,” he said. He knows of about 10 other representatives who got similar letters.

One of Springer’s letters was addressed from former state Rep. Rick Hardcastle, who vacated the seat currently held by Springer about six years ago. “I don’t believe in vouchers of any kind,” Hardcastle said Monday. “It ought to be illegal … representing me for something I have no interest in supporting or helping.”

Asked about the letters, school choice advocate Randan Steinhauser said there’s a lot of enthusiasm about the issue. “We’re excited to see that many folks are contacting their legislators. We’re looking forward to hearing more about the ways these elected officials are being contacted.”

Sue Dixon, a public school teacher in Gatesville for the last 20 years, got a call from state Rep. J.D. Sheffield’s office asking whether she had sent a letter lobbying her representative to vote for vouchers.

“I said, ‘Absolutely not!'” Dixon said. “I’m upset that someone would hijack my views.”

Sheffield, a rural conservative from Gatesville, said he had received about 550 of those letters.

Here’s a more detailed article about this bizarre story. I am reminded once again of Daniel Davies’ words, that good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance. I don’t know if this was the work of amateurs or exceedingly hardened cynics, but I do know it is not the work of someone who is confident that the people are with them.

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5 Comments

  1. C. L. says:

    “I’m not going to rehash the arguments for why vouchers (by any name; there’s a reason they have been rebranded as “education savings accounts”) are lousy public policy.”

    No worries, I’ll do it for you. 🙂

    I live in an area of the Heights with tremendously underperforming schools under most every metric – as a result, years ago my wife and I chose to pull our child from HISD and enroll at a private school… so I get to pay my fair share (and then some) of school taxes every year as well as write a whooper tuition bill every month. I keep waiting on HCAD to give me break as it appears I’m being double-dipped…

    If HISD is ultimately cash-strapped as a result of me being given a break on school taxes in some fashion, perhaps they could unload some more of their real estate holdings.

    http://www.houstonisd.org/page/78287

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    @C.L.

    Why should HISD give you a break on school taxes, just because you have kids in private school? I have no kids, period, yet I pay full freight for all my neighbors’ children. No one is trying to give me a break. The closest we can come this go-round is the state bill to limit the increase in school taxes to 5% a year, without a vote.

    I also have a question for you. Since the Heights has gentrified, why are the schools under performing? That generally means you are drawing kids from poor families. Who is poor that can afford to live in the Heights these days?

  3. Ross says:

    @CL, why would HCAD give you a break? All they do is state the value of your property. They do not set tax rates or collect taxes. If you think the Heights area schools are under performing, you haven’t been paying attention. Many of them are very desirable. Harvard could fill the entire school with the kindergarten students whose parents want them to go there. You also always have the choice to move to some whitebread suburb where your kids won’t have to hang with those icky kids from the various apartments around the Heights.

    @Bill, you would be surprised how many lower socioeconomic status families are still in the Heights. There are a lot of relatively cheap apartments around the area.

  4. C.L. says:

    @Ross… Would you like to talk about Field Elementary ?