As Texas school districts face record inflation and an ongoing teacher shortage, the Texas Legislature should not invest its time and resources in programs that fail to support all of our 5.4 million public school students. 

This includes all forms of voucher programs, including the Article 3 provision in CSSB 8 which creates an Education Savings Account. 

Under this proposed voucher program, each eligible student would receive the average state- and local-weighted average daily attendance of the district. This amount varies by school district but averages over $8,400 per student, with an additional $1,500 in funding provided for those students participating in special education programs. 

Michelle Smith

The total amount, after up to 8% is deducted for fees to run the program by the Comptroller and private vendors operating the ESA, can be spent on private school tuition, instructional materials, educational therapies, technology, breakfast and lunch during the school day, and/or before- and after-school care. 

With an initial price tag of $200 million per year, the voucher provision in the committee substitute for CSSB 8 has the potential to balloon to billions of dollars, just as seen in other states. This funding should not be directed to private schools or vendors that will have little to no state accountability for the education of our students, but instead fund our public schools that have faced double-digit inflation, teacher retention issues, and other programmatic funding needs.

More importantly, voucher programs do not help our students improve academically. Recent research on our country’s longest and largest voucher programs shows that these programs do not improve student test scores or academic achievement over time, including having a negative impact on college enrollment and completion rates for disadvantaged students. Texas should not divert public funds to private vendors that are unaccountable and are not required to serve all of our students properly. 

In fact, CSSB 8 clearly states that private schools and vendors do not have to provide the same education as public schools. Under provisions of this bill, a certified educational assistance organization shall post on the organization’s internet website, and provide each parent who submits an application for the program, a notice stating private schools are not subject to federal and state laws regarding the provision of educational services to a child with a disability in the same manner as a public school.  

For decades, Texas has been a leader in holding public schools accountable. Parents and other stakeholders deserve consistent and comparable information about school performance. Voucher proposals have not required private schools to serve all students and meet the same accountability standards as public schools.

Raise Your Hand Texas believes state dollars should remain in our public schools. Only public schools serve all students and are required to meet federal standards for those with disabilities or limited English proficiency. Our public schools are equitably funded and held accountable for measurable student results. That is the system that best serves all Texas families and taxpayers.

Editor’s Note: The above commentary was provided by Michelle Smith, Ph.D, executive director of Raise Your Hand Texas, in the form of written testimony and provided to the Texas House Committee on Public Education at a hearing on Monday, May 15, 2023. Smith was also invited to testify in person and spoke against Senate Bill 8. Smith can be reached by email via: [email protected].

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