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The Voucher Math Doesn’t Add Up for Poor Texas Families

As the debate over Governor Greg Abbott’s school voucher program continues, a close look at the math shows it won’t do much good for poor Texas families.

In brief, the voucher program would allow Texas families to use taxpayer dollars for private school tuition. The exact amount has wavered between $8,000 and $10,000. Though billed by Abbott as an “education savings account,” it is actually just a government handout. Still, it would, in theory, help families of all economic strata afford to go to private schools, especially those with more advanced special education needs.

The median cost of yearly private school tuition is $9,800 according to the Texas Private School Association. This usually doesn’t cover extra fees for sports, technology, meals, or other aspects of education, but as public schools often have their own fees, they can be disregarded for the purpose of analysis.

The problem with that average is that it’s not really an accurate representation of the cost of private school. The Dallas Morning News did a deep dive into private school tuition in their area. Some schools cost upwards of $40,000 a year. Schools that specialize in learning and physical disabilities were usually in the $20,000 a year range. While the vouchers would probably help some families just barely afford tuition, it would still be very out of reach for many low-income Texans.

There is a significant fear that the voucher system will lead to racial segregation. After all, the modern private school and home school movements were largely built out of opposition to public school integration. Looking at the demographics of private schools today, it’s a legitimate worry. About 66 percent of private school students are White, while Whites represent 60 percent of the population. Black students make up only 9 percent of private school students despite being 12 percent of the population.

In the Dallas area, the average Black household income is $33,956 a year. White family income averages nearly twice that ($60,455). Trying to float an extra $10,000 a year in tuition, even with a voucher, would be a very tough task for poorer Black families. It’s unlikely that many would be able to take advantage of the program.

Granted, most private schools do have financial aid for low-income students. The eligibility requirements vary widely, but it’s possible that a combination of financial aid and vouchers would allow more students from low-income areas to attend. Certainly, the latest incarnation of the voucher bill prioritizes poor and disabled children.

Any way the math is sliced, though, the amount is simply not enough to lift most poor Texans into private schools. In Florida, where school vouchers have been in place for decades, the state still has a problem getting Black families to participate. If Texas’s bill passes, and there isn’t enough money for poor families of color to actually use them, then the whole thing is likely to simply be a handout for white middle-class Texans. That is almost always the target demographic for these types of programs.

Finally, none of the voucher bills thus far have controls on price gouging at institutions. There is nothing to stop the schools where the vouchers would cover the full tuition from simply raising the cost and pocketing the extra money. If a school wants to keep certain people out, this would be a simple and time-tested method.

While some poor Texans would benefit from the vouchers, as a whole the math does not add up.

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.

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