Updated March 17 at 5 p.m.
With one year and one major election cycle still remaining before the 2017 legislative session, lawmakers and educators are already preparing for the debates on school choice and vouchers that are expected to continue from the 2015 session.
Legislators made several attempts to pass voucher laws in both the 2013 and 2015 legislative sessions, but none was successful. Specific proposed laws in 2015 were designed to help send children from public schools to private schools through different methods, such as allowing private businesses to contribute to scholarship funds and creating a taxpayer savings grant program to better serve children’s whose needs are not being met.
Proponents say school vouchers would give parents more choice and flexibility. However, officials with Cy-Fair ISD and Raise Your Hand Texas—a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening public school education—have some concerns about the proposals.
“They want to put more taxpayer money into this effort, but there is no accountability or transparency,” said David Anthony, CEO of Raise Your Hand Texas, referring to private school vouchers. “There isn’t the same oversight that you get at public schools, and there isn’t the accountability to make sure students are learning what they need to.”
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick championed voucher programs in the 2015 session and stated in January that school choice will be his top priority in 2017. He said his goal is to give students and parents a way out of failing schools by providing other options.
However, Anthony said focusing this money on improving struggling public schools should be the priority.
“Give schools the resources and support they need to innovate and address the needs of every student,” he said.
Charter schools are considered public schools of choice: They are accountable to the state but have freedom from certain regulations that traditional ISDs must follow.
Raise Your Hand Texas engaged Moak, Casey & Associates—a team of school finance and accountability experts in Texas—to compare charter school funding with traditional public school funding in Texas. The results, released last December, showed districts with more than 1,000 students like CFISD are generally funded at a lower rate than equally sized charter schools. If ISDs were funded like charters, total state support would increase by more than $4.7 billion, the report concluded. Every charter in the state gets the same base amount.
Although Anthony plans to step down from his role with RYHT in May, CFISD officials remain dedicated to supporting public schools in future sessions. CFISD Superintendent Mark Henry said increased collaboration, more so than increased competition, will benefit schools and students.
“Schools in competition are not going to help each other,” he said. “When educators collaborate, students win.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained a misquote from David Anthony related to funding for charter schools. Anthony referenced that charter schools receive base funding, but the quote included bracketed information about how funding does not taking the number of ESL students into account, which was a misrepresentation of the source’s commentary.