Photo: School Choice Week students (15779483143) 2015; Creator: Gage Skidmore; CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED
Voucher programs have long been a proposed solution to improve the quality of schools by introducing free market principles. Recently, voucher proposals have gained significant traction in several states. A new voucher program this year in Iowa has resulted in applications exceeding projections. The Iowa law allows families to take $7,600 per student from public school funding to spend on an accredited private school.
Despite skepticism by many conservatives, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas staked his political future on enacting his own voucher plan. Public school teachers came out so strongly against giving parents vouchers to redeem at private schools that they were even willing to forgo the raises they had been demanding. Teachers opposed vouchers even though the Texas bill would not directly siphon funds from public schools, but instead would fund the vouchers out of general state revenues.
Senate Bill 1 was introduced on the first day of a special session called for that purpose, with state Sen. Brandon Creighton as its author. It would provide up to $8,000 in taxpayer-funded vouchers for families to pay private educational expenses, which could include tutoring, homeschooling, textbooks, transportation, and uniforms in addition to tuition.
Simultaneously SB 2 was introduced to provide billions of dollars in raises to Texas public school teachers. Boosted by revenue from higher oil prices and many Americans moving to the Lone Star State, Texas enjoys a surplus of $19 billion in its upcoming fiscal year. Tapping that surplus, $5.2 billion in new funds would be allocated to public schools, mostly to increase teacher salaries. But Democrats united against raising teacher pay if the tradeoff is vouchers in any form.
There are approaches other than leaving low-performing public schools, including Donald Trump’s proposal to allow parents to fire public school principals who tolerate poor outcomes or bad behavior. However, the lockstep opposition to vouchers by Democrats, teachers unions, and other leftist cabals should be a strong indicator of how much the left fears the idea of giving families educational choice.