ATPE’s position on private school voucher programs

ATPE believes in Texas public schools. That’s why we strongly oppose any type of voucher program that directs public funding away from public schools to private individuals or institutions. For years, voucher proponents have been attempting to create a “need” for vouchers by spreading untruths to the public about our schools’ failures. They frequently complain that students are “trapped in failing schools” and argue that students deserve vouchers because they have a “civil right” to attend a private school of their choice at taxpayer expense. Meanwhile, the reality is that Texas public schools, as judged by student achievement data and graduation/dropout rates, are performing better than ever, making significant gains in student achievement and garnering national recognition. Texas public schools fulfill the state’s constitutional obligation to educate all students and deserve full state funding and support. ATPE opposes any type of voucher program that would diminish the resources needed for our public schools.

What constitutes a voucher?

A “voucher” or “voucher program” can take many forms. A traditional voucher program grants families a payment or tax credit using public funds to help pay for private school tuition. However, due to the difficulty in passing such a program, voucher proponents and private companies have developed a slew of different ways to disguise their schemes:
  • For example, bills have been filed in recent years that would allow private companies to reduce their business tax liability by contributing to a private “scholarship” fund that allows children in low-performing schools to attend private schools.
  • A popular voucher concept is the Education Savings Account (ESA), which would give parents access to a debit card funded by public dollars; parents could use the card to pay for any education-related expenses they deem appropriate for their children, including private school tuition or home-schooling costs.
  • Several attempts have also been made to create full-time virtual schools, which essentially translate to voucher programs for home-schooled students. These proposals called for using public funds to provide online education programs and computer equipment to home-schooled students and would have allowed private companies to rake in profits from taxpayer money that could be used to fund public schools.
An ancillary issue is the privatization of public schools through charters. Although charter schools are considered public schools, more attempts are being made to expand and deregulate them, including proposals to allow private charter operators to take over public school campuses or even entire school districts. At the same time, several public school districts have taken advantage of a new law that enables them to operate in a manner similar to charter schools by becoming a District of Innovation. The more public schools are exempted from traditional education laws and rules while continuing to receive public funding, the more they start to resemble private schools funded by vouchers.

Why ATPE opposes vouchers

Regardless of what form they take or how they are characterized, the problem with all voucher-type programs is that state and federal regulations are practically unenforceable for private or home-based schools, which means the private companies operating them have no accountability to the public for how they might spend public tax dollars or govern their schools. The same is true for parents granted funds under an ESA plan who do not have to account for how those funds are spent and whether those expenditures actually contribute to student learning. 
ATPE does not oppose using technology to complement traditional learning techniques and supports private scholarship programs aimed at providing opportunities for students with special needs or those in low-performing schools.  We also support parents’ right to choose whether to enroll their children in public or private schools or to home-school them. However, public schools must remain public.
ATPE is opposed to full-time virtual schools, privatizing existing public schools and any voucher programs that enrich individual investors, private entities or for-profit companies, especially when the state has failed to adequately fund its existing public education system.
For more information on vouchers, visit ATPE’s nonpartisan education advocacy website Teach the Vote or the website of the Coalition for Public Schools, an anti-voucher coalition to which ATPE belongs.

Questions? Send us a message or call the ATPE state office at (800) 777-2873.

This is legislative advertising contracted for by Dr. Shannon J. Holmes, Executive Director, Association of Texas Professional Educators, 305 E. Huntland Dr., Suite 300, Austin, TX 78752-3792, representing ATPE.