Texas lawmakers are pushing to expand school choice

Published: Mar. 31, 2023 at 6:19 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WICHITA FALLS, Texas (KAUZ) - Texas lawmakers are pushing to expand school choice and they are doing it through an Education Savings Voucher program.

This system would allow families to be reimbursed to help pay for what advocates call a better education.

There are pros and cons that come with it, but one of the pros is it could be financially beneficial for families who may want to send their child to a different school. However, after speaking with Wichita Falls ISD officials, they say the cons outweigh the pros.

“From our perspective, it is taking taxpayer public funds and it is used for private schools,” WFISD Superintendent Dr. Donny Lee said. “We are adamantly opposed to that.”

House Bills 4339 and 4340 are designed to use taxpayer dollars that go toward public education and reimburse eligible families $8,000 a year to use toward a better education whether that is a different public school, private school, or homeschooling.

“Underperforming public schools or a bad school, in general, it might give them an option to move them someplace else,” Dr. Steve Garrison, Political Science professor at Midwestern State University said. “The idea behind the voucher is to make it so people with lower income would have the funds to do that. It sounds great but the problem is to date, the research doesn’t really indicate that it improves performance for students leaving public schools.”

Dr. Lee said they already use a voucher system that works well for them.

“If a student that is at Wichita Falls ISD wants to go to say Burkburnett, they can do that, and those tax dollars follow the student,” Dr. Lee said. “The allotment of $6,160 follows that kid from Wichita Falls to Burkburnett or City View or anywhere else.”

The difference between the two is the education bills trying to be passed would give an additional $8,000 from the public school the family is leaving, which raises concerns.

“One of the things that is the biggest concern about the voucher system is the impact it will have on rural high schools because most rural schools aren’t the best-funded to begin with, so if you start withdrawing funding and also losing students...” Dr. Garrison said.

There is also a belief that this action is aimed to benefit private schools in the process of hurting public education by families being able to use public funds to afford a private school.

“In essence what it does is it separates the rich kids, those that can go to private school or are already in, and the poor kids, the ones that we need to educate the most,” Dr. Lee said. “The ones that we need to give more dollars to, we are actually going to pull public funding from public schools and give it to private schools.”

Another issue that was mentioned was how the government would be able to regulate the spending of the families receiving the voucher.

“The state doesn’t want that money to be able to be used, however,” Dr. Garrison said. “Whatever the parents would like to do needs to be approved for educational expenses. That will add another layer of government to the process, somebody has to check it, and more forms to fill out. All of that will drive up the cost of education just by going through that, let alone frustrating parents, average people, and so on.”

The Texas Senate Education Committee voted in favor of the bills March 28 and will now go before the Senate for a full vote.