Friday, August 24, 2012

Private School Vouchers Back on the Agenda

Private school vouchers have been a politically divise issue for years, but now that the Texas Legislature is set to be the most conservative it's ever been, senators such as Dan Patrick, Republican from Houston and chair of the Senate Education committee, are vowing to make it an issue, reports.

Patrick is holding a hearing today on "school choice" issues, which include private school vouchers and expanding charter schools.  Opponents are ready for a fight during the next session.  Many of the opponents won their seats against vocal private school voucher advocates.  One of those, State Rep. Diane Patrick (no relation to Dan), Republican from Arlington, wants to see Texas put its money into alternatives within the public education system in the form of magnet schools and charter schools rather than handing money over to private schools with no financial or academic accountability.

In the last ten years, Texas has been the site of half of new public school enrollment in the entire country.  Public school advocates see discussion over private school vouchers as a distraction from where the real focus should be:  improving public education for all students.  Private school vouchers have not been seen to be a priority among Republican voters in the primary contests and advocates say that after seeing $5.4 billion cut from the public education budget last session, restoring the cuts should be the lawmakers goal, not taking away even more money to hand over to private schools.

Dan Patrick's hearing will discuss a "taxpayers' savings grant program".  One idea would reimburse parents for private school tuition up to 60 percent of the per-student spending in the state, or about $5,300.  A conservative think tank did a 2011 analysis that concluded that roughly more than 300,000 students, 6 percent of total public school enrollment, would use the grants to attend private school with the grants, reducing state education costs by around $1 billion a year.

The idea was brought up last year by state Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, but did not see any traction.  Miller lost last month's Republican primary runoff to a challenger that was supported by Texas Parent PAC, a political committee formed to support public education.

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