Showdown In Texas: Legislature Gearing For Debate Over Private School Vouchers

Sen. Patrick doesn’t seem to realize that allowing students to attend private schools using taxpayer dollars could lead to serious church-state issues. By their very nature, private schools are not required to maintain strict church-state separation and there is absolutely no way of forcing them to do so.

It seems that Texas state Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) has given up on his state’s public school system.

“No student should be locked into a poor performing school because that happens to be where they live,” Patrick said, according to the Austin American-Statesman. “I’m a big supporter of public education, and we have a lot of schools that are doing a great job, but we must also recognize the truth that we have a lot of schools that are not performing at the level that they need to be.”

Despite his claim to support public education, Patrick held a one-sided hearing today featuring a parade of “school choice” advocates, thereby advancing an issue that had been dormant in the state legislature for several years: private school voucher subsidies.  

The American-Statesman noted that Texas cut $5.4 billion from public schools in the last legislative session, but Patrick, who may chair the Senate Education Committee next, seems to think that siphoning even more money away from those schools by giving students taxpayer dollars to attend private schools is the best way to improve education.

“If now is not the time to advance major school reforms, then there will never be a time,” he told the American-Statesman.

Voucher advocates like Patrick have a habit of ignoring facts. Some people claim that students at private schools who receive vouchers outperform their public school counterparts. That is untrue. According to multiple studies of the District of Columbia, Milwaukee and Cleveland school voucher programs, students offered vouchers did not perform better in reading and math than students in public schools.

Just one reputable study has shown improvement by voucher students over their public school counterparts in reading, and even the author of that study admitted there was no definite "winner" between the voucher program and students at public schools.

Advocates for private school vouchers also ignore that private schools are not beholden to the same standards as public schools in terms of financial and academic accountability.

Patrick also doesn’t seem to realize that allowing students to attend private schools using taxpayer dollars could lead to serious church-state issues. By their very nature, private schools are not required to maintain strict church-state separation and there is absolutely no way of forcing them to do so. That’s why any public funds given to a private school could easily be used to promote religion in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Fortunately not everyone agrees with Dan Patrick, including a member of his own party. The American-Statesman reported that state Rep. Diane Patrick (R-Arlington) said she is gearing up for a fight over vouchers because Texas should be focused on improving aspects of the public school system, such as bolstering magnet and charter schools, rather than dumping money into private schools.  

“We’re on code red,” Diane Patrick said.

It looks like there will be quite a battle in the coming months over private school vouchers in Texas. Americans United will be monitoring the situation closely, so stay tuned for updates.