Texas should avoid school voucher failures seen in other states

Among national experts, Texas has a strong tradition of collecting data and evidence to inform education policy-making. The Center for Educational Research at the University of Texas at Dallas, for example, is a leader both in the state and nationwide in building and maintaining data systems to help guide decision-making with facts.

We learned about teacher retention, wages, and working conditions in Texas, for example, and the impact of charter schools, English language instruction, college admissions policies, and the effects of Hurricane Katrina’s student displacement on their peers in Houston – just to name a few miscellaneous examples.

But when it comes to school vouchers or similar programs — using taxpayer money to prop up private school tuition, as Gov. Greg Abbott and others are considering — Texas can learn. what has been done in other states.

There have been four independent evaluations of voucher programs similar to those currently being discussed in Texas: in Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and Washington, DC. All have shown some of the most significant negative impacts on student learning ever observed among education researchers.

Take Louisiana, for example, just across the border. When school voucher programs were created and expanded after Hurricane Katrina, two separate research teams studied student performance after the transition from public to private schools. The results were shocking: student learning loss was almost double what the COVID-19 pandemic did to test results more recently, and these good results have persisted over time.

Like many advocates across the country, Abbott alluded to the quality of private schools, remarking on a private school he found “amazing” this summer, “it shows the quality of the type of education they’re getting in this moment”.

It’s mostly just a perception. Despite the rhetoric that tax support for private tuition allows parents to find the best academic education for their children, the reality is that most private schools are not elite academic institutions, and those that are actually available for parents using a voucher often have no place.

Reviewing school applications in New Orleans, for example, our research team found that most good parents ranked high-quality private schools high on their list for their children to attend, but had to accept much less efficient options when assigned to third or fourth choice with seats actually available.

In Wisconsin, home to the nation’s oldest voucher program, 40% of private schools accepting voucher-paid students have failed in the program’s history. A total of 12% of Wisconsin taxpayers’ money went to schools that had to close.

Some proponents of using taxpayer dollars to prop up private tuition – like billionaire and former education secretary Betsy DeVos – will also say the point is more about “educational freedom”: allowing parents to take their taxes wherever they want. But Texas, like many states, already has a vibrant charter school sector supported by taxpayer dollars, and many traditional districts allow open enrollment for students outside their residential borders. And unlike the good ones, these school choice options have much better academic results across the country.

And as for choosing private schools: In Arizona, which just passed a major expansion of its voucher program, 75% of applications came from students already in a private school without taxpayers footing the bill — a number similar to the share of existing private students joining the right programs elsewhere as well. Vouchers are really an idea to subsidize existing choices.

Whatever Texas decides to do, the experience of other states provides a clear warning signal: taxpayer support for private school tuition has been a huge step backwards, with very little to show for it. return.

Josh Cowen is a professor of educational policy at Michigan State University. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News. Twitter: @joshcowenMSU

We welcome your thoughts in a letter to the editor. Consult the instructions and drop your letter here.

Comments are closed.