The Texas Legislature is in yet another special session right now as Governor Greg Abbott tries to pass his school voucher program, which he erroneously calls an “education savings account.” It’s the most blatantly misleading term since the word “titmouse.”
Under Abbott’s proposal, Texas parents would get $8,000 a year to use for tuition to private schools. That is a grant, not a savings account. Parents are not putting in any money and reaping rewards further down the line. There is no interest being paid out to reward thrifty or financially stable participants. It’s just a government handout that would cost Texas $8 billion annually.
Specifically, it is a handout to conservative Christians. The rhetoric around “school choice” as it’s called has almost totally focused on the idea that Texas public schools are hotbeds of liberal indoctrination. Parents are being told they need the ability to send their kids to whatever school they please to avoid things like LGBT acceptance and memoirs about civil rights written by minorities.
First, parents can already switch to any public school they like in Texas, no questions asked. Second, in places where similar voucher programs have been instituted, the money flows mostly into Christian school coffers. In Ohio, where vouchers were passed in 1996, a whopping 97 percent of voucher dollars go to Christian schools. That is a transfer of more than $100 million from taxpayers to church-based groups annually.
Calling the vouchers an “education savings account” is nothing but a marketing ploy. It implies that the parents who take advantage of them are merely reaping what they’ve sown from their property taxes.
As Chris Tomlinson at The Houston Chronicle points out, this is a ridiculous way to view the issue.
“If the Texas Legislature wants to give parents $104,000 in tax money for their children’s so-called Education Savings Account, those of us who are childless should get something, too,” he said in a recent editorial. “Let’s call it a Porsche Savings Account or a PSA. A new car would boost the economy, but I guess that acronym is already taken. Maybe a Tesla Savings Account or TSA? Maybe not. For 22 years, I’ve helped pay for Texas public schools through rent or property taxes, even though I don’t have a child nor ever will. When school voucher proponents mouth off about their right to choose their child’s education, I want to remind them I have a right to insist my tax dollars are spent wisely.”
The fact is that Texas parents have incredible leeway in their child’s education. Not only can they go to any public or charter school they like free of charge, the state also has a famously easy way about homeschooling. Insisting that taxpayers foot the bill for specifically religious instruction at campuses that have far less oversight when it comes to discrimination and spending is simply wealth distribution in favor of conservative Christians.
It’s even worse because no matter how Senate Republicans and the governor try to spin the matter, the money will eventually come from public schools. Every child that leaves Texas public schools for a private one costs that public school thousands of dollars. The schools are funded through an allotment formula where each child is equal to a certain amount of funding.
Texas Republicans have attempted to mitigate this with increases to the allotment, promises of stipends to rural schools, and teacher raises, but there is no conceivable future where vouchers do not represent a marked loss in funding for public schools as students leave for private ones.
Ironically, the state does actually have an education savings account. It’s called the Texas College Savings Plan, and the comptroller oversees it. Parents put in money to guaranteed, government-backed accounts to secure their children’s higher education. And yes, they can even spend it on religious institutions because it is those parents’ money, not the taxpayers. What Abbott calls an education savings account is just welfare and wealth distribution based on conservative Christian ideology.