A study by the Texas-based Coalition for Public Schools estimates the 11 participating districts would lose $265 million in state and local funding. When the program expanded in 2005, public schools statewide could lose as much as $800 million. A boilerplate anti-discrimination clause in the bill would prohibit private schools from rejecting voucher students based on race or ethnicity. But there is no provision against more subtle discrimination based on academic or behavioral records. If there are more voucher applicants than available slots, private schools would be required to select applicants by lottery. In the Cleveland voucher program, which also has a lottery provision, the Indiana Center for Evaluation found only 53 percent of voucher students were African-American, compared to 71 percent of public schools students. Some private schools may simply opt not to accept voucher students and the government oversight they bring with them. House Bill 2465 would require private schools to give the TAKS or a similar test each year and make the result public \(though unlike public schools, private schools wouldn’t be slapped with sanctions for low perEdd Burleson, director of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, says discussions among private school administrators about vouchers have been informal, but “most are quite concerned about the strings attached to taking government money.” But where established private schools turn vouchers away, for-profits soon spring up to take in those students and the state dollars they bring with them. HB 2465 requires only that a private school apply for accreditation before it accepts voucher students, and provides virtually no state oversight of schools in the program. Texas has already had a taste of the chaos that ensues from this sort of school privatization. When CEO America \(then CEO San available to Edgewood students, a handful of schools opened just for the occasionone in a storefront, one in a former bar, yet a third with no listed phone number, apparently quartered in an abandoned shack. The future looks grim, if Texas charter schools are any indication of how education might operate under the loosened accreditation standards and lack of state oversight contemplated in HB 2465. In 2001, the Texas Education Agency found charter schools spent an average of $23 per pupil on instructional materials, compared to $105 spent by the average public school. Yet there is one area where charter schools best public schools: The average charter school spent $939 on administrative costsmore than four times what the average public school spends. As for pioneering pedagogical methods for public schools to emulateas many voucher advocates promised that for-profit schools would doDr. Harry Levin of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education found for-profits were likely to pinch pennies by innovating less. The three main ways for-profits save money, Levin says, are hiring inexperienced teachers, filtering out the students who are the most expensive to educate \(often those with disabilities, behavioral problems, a rigid, standardized curriculum. Edison Schools Inc., one of the longest established and best known forprofit education management organizations in the country, has been kicked out ofTexas, its contracts canceled with the Dallas and Sherman school districts for fiscal mismanagement and low student achievement. After this session’s proposed severe cuts to the education budget, vouchers would be instituted instead of proven reform, like reduced class sizes, better teacher training, and enriched curriculum.Voucher supporters argue that public schools aren’t “losing” any funding, since the costs of educating a student go away when the studentand his or her tax-supported voucherleaves the school. But per-pupil spending accounts for only a fraction of school costs; expenses like buildings, teaching mate rials, staff, and administrative costs don’t disappear as the student body dwindles. But even if vouchers achieved all that supporters promiseif they did not discriminate against minority students, if voucher students’ achievements outstripped the public schools, if privatized education did not prove ripe for exploitation by greedy profit-makersthey would still enable only a handful of children to escape failing schools. Those who were left behind would be worse off than before. To Lands, and many parents and activists who have watched underfunded schools ignore and fail their children, vouchers are temptingly close, reassuringly instant. They want help now for an immediate crisis. In March, a black high-school boy shot a black high-school girl on campus at an East Austin school. Lands knew them both. The boy had sung in a wedding at his church a few weeks before. The boy had been crying out for help, Lands says, and the school had ignored it. “There are behaviors that the schools tolerate because they have low expectations of these students,” Lands says. “A lot of children of color come from some pretty grave circumstances. Rather than hold them hostage to their circumstances, they need to be given a target. We don’t have that.” If there’s an escape for poor and minority kids, a way out of gritty subdivisions and dead-end jobs and grinding poverty, it is through education. And when the schools fail, as Lands believes they have, there’s no hope. “I am pro-voucher, anti-voucher, anti-pro-voucheranything but what we have,” Lands says. “It is vital that we find a way in which the Haves do not have at the expense of the Have-nots.” The truth behind Land’s urgency is undeniable. That is why it has proved such a successful selling tool for vouchers. Unfortunately, when it comes to solving educational deficiencies for minority students, vouchers are the wrong answer. Emily Pyle is a legislative intern .for the Observer. 5/9103 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7
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