Guest Column: District prioritizes: Priority Three

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This is part three in a four-part series of editorials regarding the Legislative Priorities adopted by Sealy ISD Board of Trustees in November.

If you read my previous editorials, you already know that the Texas Constitution requires the state to finance the "support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools." Note the word public. Threats of vouchers from the state government prompted the board to adopt the following legislative priority:

"Legislators should oppose any state voucher plan, tax credit, taxpayer savings grant, or tuition reimbursements to private institutions, home school students, or parents unless the recipient is held to the same financial and academic transparency, testing, and accountability requirements as public schools."

School districts must account for every penny that is spent. There is an elaborate system of audits and formulas that guarantee transparency and good stewardship of taxpayer dollars. Furthermore, state testing requirements ensure strict adherence to mandated state curriculum, with results being reported annually through the Texas Academic Performance Reports (TAPR). Although I believe our testing and accountability system is flawed, at least we are all being measured by the same system. Some lawmakers are pushing the idea of "school choice", where dollars would flow with the child to whatever institution or home school situation the parent chooses. This system is commonly referred to as vouchers, or educational savings accounts, and Senator Taylor from Galveston has proposed Senate Bill 3 to accomplish it. His bill pushes for the creation of vouchers but also includes a provision for "tax credit scholarships" to be paid directly from businesses into the coffers of private schools. Money that would normally go into the general fund for road repairs, infrastructure, and other public needs will be diverted directly to private schools. Besides the obvious constitutionality of that particular scenario, how can that be considered anything but another entitlement program? Just to cast more doubt on the rationale of tax credits, the bill proposed only allows insurance companies to contribute to these tax credit scholarships. I called Senator Taylor's office to get some clarification and asked why only insurance companies were being offered this option. The reply was that they wanted to give a tax break to insurance companies but couldn't, so they wanted to give them this option. That tells us two things: 1) They are giving insurance companies some kind of break on their required tax burden, otherwise there would be no reason for them to consider paying a tax credit to a private school instead of just paying their taxes, and 2) either way, the people of Texas are going to have to absorb this shortfall in the general fund. If you look at industry earnings reports, the insurance companies are doing just fine, so I'm not sure what has motivated this particular favor from our legislators.

With vouchers, educational savings accounts and tax credits, taxpayer money will flow out to anyone who wants to call themselves a "school", and there is no requirement for accountability, either for expenditures or adherence to the required state curriculum. Parents could also choose to home school their children and just pay themselves. I have a little bit of experience in this arena. My husband and I homeschooled our daughter for a time, as she was involved in competition at a high level that required frequent travel and extensive training. Between us, we hold two master's degrees, and have expertise in science, literature, and history. It is a real commitment to home school a child, and many people do it very well. But, do you know what the requirements are to be eligible to home school your child in the state of Texas? There are none. Anyone can do it. I bet that a no-strings-attached payment of $5,000 to $9,000 per child could encourage many people, regardless of their ability, to try their hand at home schooling. While I personally know many people who would take the money and do a great job of educating their children at home, can you see any potential for abuse here?

As a taxpayer, it just seems wrong. If financial transparency and instructional accountability are necessary to fund public schools, then it is reasonable that the same degree of transparency and accountability should follow taxpayer dollars to private institutions and individuals.

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