Governor Greg Abbott’s last proposed education savings account program could have cost the state more than $2 billion annually by 2028, according to estimates by the state’s Legislative Budget Board.
Despite the Governor asserting that vouchers enjoy widespread popularity in Texas, recent polls suggest that voters don’t respond favorably when being told the cost. The two main reasons vouchers remain unpopular are the belief that vouchers will lead to higher taxes and that they will result in less funding for public schools.
A voucher program is any government mechanism that would allow parents to use taxpayer dollars to send their children to private schools. The money for vouchers would not come from the public school budget but from a special account appropriated by the Legislature. However, in a state where the money follows the child, students dropping out of public schools would inevitably affect – an already scarce – budget.
Those who oppose a “school choice” program argue that the Legislature should have focused on increasing public school education funding, instead of diverting those dollars into a system that holds no accountability.
Public schools get money from the state and from local property owners through property tax. The state uses a formula to determine how much money a school district receives. Within that is what’s called a ‘basic allotment.’ In essence, that is the amount of money guaranteed per pupil to every district across the state.
The allotment is not given to schools based on how many students are enrolled, but rather how many students show up.
School funding isn’t that complex, Keith Bryant, Superintendent of Schools in Lubbock-Cooper ISD told RA News, who explains school funding as a pie that everyone in public schools in Texas is sharing.
“Every public school in Texas is sharing this pie. If someone takes a slice out of the pie to fund vouchers for private schools or homeschooling, there is less pie remaining for Texas public schools.”
Advocates for public schools argue that vouchers would essentially result in subsidizing tuition for wealthy families, as individuals in low-income areas lack comparable private school choices and the financial means to bridge the economic disparities required to enroll in such institutions.
During the 88th Legislative Session, Gov. Abbott had a historic budget surplus to enhance resources for public schools, but refused to do so unless a one-time cash infusion for private school vouchers was coupled in. In the end, no comprehensive education funding bill was passed.
“If vouchers were apparently so popular they should have been able to stand on their own without being tied to public school funding or teacher pay,” Superintendent Dr. David Maass from Grapeland ISD told RA News.
“We now know that vouchers were never popular and therefore had to be tied to something that was popular in the form of funding public education and teacher pay. Abbott and Patrick have shown themselves to be inflexible, vindictive, and petty during this session.”
Last year, Gov. Abbott signed an $18 billion tax cut for Texas property owners, awaiting voters’ approval later this year.
The package, inclusive of a $5 billion allocation from four years ago, designates nearly $12.6 billion to reduce the school property tax rate by 10.7 cents per $100 valuation for all property types, as first reported by The Texas Tribune.
However, the absence of new funding for schools has drawn criticism, especially as Texas ranks near the bottom in per-student education funding compared to other states.
“All this talk about compressing tax rates is great, you know, folks need property tax relief. That’s an obvious need in this state,” Brian Woods, superintendent of Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, told The Texas Tribune. “But it doesn’t put a single dollar into a teacher’s salary. It doesn’t put a single dollar in a classroom for supplies or materials or programs for kids.”
Woods also emphasized the potential vulnerability of education budgets when the economy takes its next downstring.