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School voucher bills under scrutiny

The Senate Public Education Committee is considering three bills that would allow for state-funded school vouchers.  It's something that's drawn the ire of the the Coalition for Public Schools.   The group sent the following letter to the Committee Chairman Senator Larry Taylor:

 

Chairman Taylor,

 

 

The Coalition for Public Schools, which includes more than 30 organizations that support our neighborhood public schools, has serious concerns about today’s (March 26) Senate Education Committee hearing.

 

In particular, we are deeply disturbed that – for the second time this year – the Senate Education Committee will hear testimony on voucher legislation even though the public has not been given time to analyze a fiscal note and understand the real cost of that legislation to our already underfunded public schools. This also happened at the March 6 hearing on SB 894, a bill that would greatly expand the state’s virtual school program and allow participation by students in private schools. No fiscal note was available for SB 894 until the very day of the hearing. Now the Senate Education Committee is hearing testimony on other voucher bills for which no fiscal notes had been posted for the public to view by late Wednesday afternoon.

 

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the supporters of these voucher bills are trying to hide the real costs to our neighborhood public schools and the students who attend them. We call on the members of the Legislature to put fiscal responsibility ahead of such smoke-and-mirror tactics.

 

In any case, because no official fiscal analysis was available for today’s committee bills in sufficient time for testifiers to incorporate that information into their public remarks, or for members of this committee to digest and incorporate into their questions for the bill authors and witnesses, we have undertaken a basic analysis of the potential costs of these bills to Texas, to neighborhood schools and to taxpayers.

 

Attached is the most important information from our analysis of these bills. But the key takeaway from our analysis is this: Claims that the proposed bills would save taxpayer dollars and wouldn’t lead to cuts in funding to neighborhood public schools are simply a charade. Such claims do not hold up under even a simple analysis. In short, these bills represent deeply cynical and misleading efforts to take what ultimately could be billions of tax dollars each year from neighborhood public schools to spend instead on subsidizing private and religious schools in Texas.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Charles Luke, Ed.D.

Coalition for Public Schools

 

Fiscal Analysis of SB 4, SB 276, SB 642 and SB 1178

 

Following are the most important points in our fiscal analysis of proposed voucher bills on the Senate Education Committee hearing agenda for March 26, 2015.

 

  • According to the fiscal note for SB 894, the average state cost per student for each additional student added to or subtracted from the FSP is projected at $7,903/ADA. Based on that cost projection, the various proposed voucher amounts would initially be:

    Percent of Avg, Cost                        Voucher Amount

SB 4                 75%                                   $5,927.25

SB 276             60%                                   $4,741.80

SB 642             75% + $500*                     $6,427.25

   * includes $500 allowance for expenses beyond tuition

  • SB 1178—would base funding on 80% of the prior year average funding – possibly including facilities or debt costs – for the child’s resident public school district.  What that average represents is too unclear to make a voucher cost estimate possible.) 

The alleged “savings” for each former public school student who uses a voucher for private school would be:

            SB4 – $1975.75

            SB276 – $3162.20

SB642 – $1475.75

  • These amounts won’t necessarily impact the fiscal notes, since several of the bills impose maximum cost caps.  However, experience has shown that any such caps are temporary – the 20-school “pilot” charter cap became 100 the next biennium and 200 the following before any results from the alleged pilot were in.  Similarly, legislation was already heard in this committee to remove the caps on the virtual school program, again before any results were analyzed.
  • Any “savings” from these programs are illusory for several reasons: 
  1. The “average” costs will likely not be “saved” because the percentages as applied include the numerous student and district costs adjustments.
    1.  In particular, the additional cost of special education services and compensatory education will not result in savings since private schools can be selective and generally accept few of these students (and most economically disadvantaged students won’t be able to afford the differential between the voucher amount and tuition and other costs.)
    2.  Special Ed and Career and Technology costs alone make up more than $1,000 of that “average”.  Therefore, the reductions in actual cost per student to the state will likely be much less than claimed. 
    3. This is especially true for SB 1178, which would also factor in average costs for facilities and debt, for which the state is currently paying only about 11% of the cost.
  2. Initial reductions in cost to the state are illusory because providing vouchers to students who are entering kindergarten or 1st grade who would have enrolled in private schools anyway would offset most or all of those savings. 
    1. Under SB 4 and SB 642, it would take three students transferring from public schools to private schools to offset the cost of each “K or 1st grade student that would have gone to private school anyway who would now be subsidized. 
    2. Under SB 276, the ratio would be three transfers for every two.
  3. Any initial savings would quickly vanish because the voucher costs would be compounded.
    1.  It would take all of those transfers remaining in private schools and that many additional transfers occurring each year to offset the increased costs of providing vouchers for both returning and new private school enrollees.
    2. That would require increasing private school enrollment beyond anyone’s wildest projections of their capacity.

 

  1. Any “savings” are to the state and are almost entirely at the expense of the local school district that a transferring student leaves. 
    1. If one or two children leave a classroom, the district’s costs are barely reduced, if at all, and certainly not in proportion to the district’s loss of funds.
    2. That lost funding would still be needed to maintain the program, causing local taxpayers to have to pick up the cost, or the local district to reduce needed programs.
  • In reality, the alleged savings will become moot.
    • The stated eventual goal of the proponents is to provide vouchers for all current private school students – and home-schools are private schools under Texas law.
    • Most estimates of the total number of privately educated students in Texas run around 10% of the public school population. This equates to upwards of a half million students not currently funded by the state. At the voucher costs in the various bills this would require at least an additional $5-$6 billion per biennium. 
    • If the state does not raise additional revenue to cover this, the additional revenue required would likely come from reduced support for public schools. 
  • All “taxpayer savings” programs are nothing more than vouchers. If money that would otherwise have flowed to the state is instead diverted to a private organization that distributes the money as vouchers, that is no different than a direct state voucher payment. The only change is the entity administering the money.

 

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