A Big Loss For Vouchers In The Lone Star State

Texas is one of the more conservative states in the country. Over the years, Lone Star State legislators have cooked up some pretty bad church-state legislation.

Voucher legislation is common in the Texas legislature, but even in this redder than red state, the bills usually fail to gain traction. This year’s session has given us a new twist: the lieutenant governor’s hard push for vouchers prompted the House to pass a proposal to bar the funding of private school vouchers.

The crusade this year was spearheaded by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who managed to ram his voucher plan through the state Senate on a narrow vote, but the scheme unraveled in the Texas House of Representatives. Instead of passing the voucher bill, the House voted 103-44 to approve an amendment to the state budget that expressly forbids the use of taxpayer money from being spent to subsidize private school tuition.

Texans (and many of their state representatives) aren't willing to say goodbye to public education.

Technically, Patrick’s proposal in Texas would have established “education savings accounts.” This is yet another re-branding effort by the voucher crowd, since the term “voucher” tends to be toxic with voters in many states. But Texans weren’t fooled. They know vouchers when they see them – and they know what they will do to their public schools.

Interestingly, it was Republicans in the Texas House that bucked their own party leadership and took affirmative action not just to derail this voucher scheme but make it impossible for others to pass. Many of these legislators represent small towns and rural areas, where public schools are often important focal points for these communities. They know that residents are wary of schemes that will hurt these schools by draining funding away from public education.

Rep. Hugh Shine (R-Temple) told the Texas Tribune he would not support any voucher bill.

“If we allow vouchers to start in any form or fashion, they can grow and advance and affect our public education,” Shine said. “What they’re calling ‘choice,’ this voucher situation, is erroneous.”

The victory in Texas is good news, but we have much more work to do. We are still fighting voucher bill across the country. In addition, President Donald J. Trump has inserted a $250 million voucher scheme in his “skinny budget,” and during the campaign, he proposed an even larger program pegged at $20 billion.

Americans United opposes vouchers because they funnel tax money into the coffers of private sectarian schools. This compels taxpayers to fund religion, which we view as a fundamental violation of the right of conscience. In America, people should have the right to pay only for the religion of their choice – or pay for no religion at all. Support for religion should be voluntary.

But there are many other problems with vouchers. They tend to foster discrimination by giving public support to institutions that are free to deny admission to or expel kids for virtually any reason. (For example, most programs allow religious schools to expel students for being gay or for being the “wrong” religion.) Vouchers also don’t work, as numerous studies have proven.

To learn more about the threat vouchers pose to public education, visit the site of the National Coalition for Public Education, a group co-chaired by Americans United.