Tuesday, April 11, 2017

RISD Candidates on Vouchers for Private Schools

I asked the candidates for Richardson ISD Board of Trustees their opinions on a range of subjects. To limit bias on my part, I did not phrase the subjects in the form of questions. I invited the candidates to focus on whatever aspect of the subject they think is most important for RISD voters to consider when casting a ballot on May 6. My desire is to publish the candidates' opinions in their own words, so I will post their responses, unedited and without any accompanying editorial comment.

For readability, I've collated the responses by subject and will post the subjects separately. The topic of this post is "Vouchers for Private Schools".

Place 3
  • Joseph Armstrong:
    I am not in favor of school vouchers, ESA’s or any other attempt at education reform that involves taking public dollars and sending it to private citizens or institutions. Additionally, and equally as important, vouchers and the like would have the most negative affect on the least among us. In an era in which the wealth gap has been growing and continues to grow, this would do nothing but further divide the top and bottom of society, which in the span of history has never worked out well. I understand that public schools are not doing well as a whole right now in this country. However, I would contend that the same folks in Austin and D.C. that are using this as a reason for the introduction of vouchers, are the same ones, through high stakes testing and the lobbying and legislation that goes along with it, who have caused this education system decline in the first place. In its infancy, this was pushed as a program to benefit certain populations, including students of special needs. But like so many other things, it has been twisted and distorted beyond recognition and is not even close to the benefit of the majority of students.

  • Karen Clardy:
    Private school vouchers do little to help the economically disadvantaged students. The payments often do not cover the entire cost of tuition or other mandatory fees for private schools. Thus, only families with the money to cover the cost of the rest of the tuition, uniforms, transportation, books and other supplies can use the vouchers. Vouchers actually hurt rather than help socio-economic families by undermining the public schools they rely on for an education.

    We need to be proactive and continue to build on our public schools to attract students to our district. RISD needs to continue stepping up technology for our 21 st Century learners. I had the privilege over the last few years of taking prospective private school students and their parents on tours throughout our building. Technology was a very important draw to these parents and students. RISD also needs to continue to increase the resources for our CTE, STEM, and Magnet classes. Our new non-traditional facility will also be an attraction. Communication of these great programs needs to be improved and the school counselors need to play an important role in that communication. We need to ensure that RISD is a destination school district and keep our students in public schools

  • Eric Eager:
    I am against school vouchers as it will move funding from our public schools into private institutions with no accountability for student performance. Private schools would take in taxpayer dollars and not be held to the same standards as our public schools. There is little evidence that vouchers improve outcomes for students. Education funding is already strained with the state of Texas ranked 43 in education spending per student and is now pushing for more funding to come from local taxpayers. I feel like that this is a bit of "I’m going to take my ball and go home" attitude versus focusing on ways to improve the public-school system.

    In regards to school choice within the district, RISD has done an excellent job of providing our students several options. There are magnet programs in arts, technology, math, science, leadership, law, culinary arts, theater arts, among others. RISD's new health science program in partnership with Methodist Hospital is now available to all high school students in the district. Berkner’s STEM Academy is a four-year program available for those interested in areas like biotechnology, virtual reality, robotics, and 3D Printing.

  • Ben Prado:
    Our Texas State Senate has now officially voted on and approved School Choice - it is now in the hands of our Governor to sign the bill or not. What can we do at a local level? First of all: reach out to our local representatives and voice our concerns. Laws can be changed. Second: make sure our schools, teachers, programs, and curricula are performing at not only adequate but optimal pace. Vouchers are a concern not only around our district and state but across the entire country. Concerned parents see their tax dollars being invested incorrectly and not being put to good use. They rather take that money and ensure their children receive a competitive and proper education at a private or charter school and not necessarily the school they are assigned to according to their residence. I do not blame them. I would want the same thing for my children. However, taking money away from local schools won't solve any problems. In the long run it will cause negative and harmful impacts on the success of our public schools and the educational benefits of going from a public to private/charter school are limited. Most research shows the educational outcome of students who take advantage of vouchers is, simply put, negligible. We have one task: take the next 3 years, lay out a strategic plan and mission, and seek every mean possible to achieve that goal. Ensure that every student is receiving a caring, nurturing, and successful education plan. We need to be in a position where our local parents can confidently say that RISD is the district where they want to send their children to, no matter what school that might be. Vouchers or school choice does not need to be such a heated and dicey topic in our local community. We are the ones that can prevent it from becoming so. Now is our chance. Now is my chance to ensure that tax dollars stay in public schools and ensure that public schools stay at the top of the performance ladder.

Place 6
  • Justin Bono (incumbent)
    While the voucher bill that passed the Senate this session was watered down significantly at the 11 th hour and many of its challenging components removed, it is still legislation that I am strongly opposed to. The narrative around vouchers usually revolves around one of two topics:
    1. I should be able to spend my property tax dollars however I desire.
    2. Kids trapped in "failing schools" shouldn’t be trapped there.

    By examining each of these areas, it becomes clear how vouchers as proposed can’t be taken seriously in Texas today.

    As was detailed in the School Finance section above, local property taxes go into a much more complicated school tax formula and their share of education funding varies significantly year to year. Furthermore, the State is using those dollars for items other than education (see $2.6B in franchise tax cuts). Also, it is important to understand that the average homeowner in the State pays less than $2,000/year in school taxes. Granted this number is higher in metro areas. However, the current voucher legislation proposes $6,000-$8,000+ in an education savings account per student. Very few homeowners are paying this level of local property taxes per student to make the argument of "being able to spend their local property tax dollars how they desire" stand up under the current legislation. In order to access this voucher, almost every participant under the current legislation would be spending someone else’s property taxes as well.

    There are already laws in place that allow students to transfer out of schools that are underperforming (what some legislators would call "failing schools"). They don’t need a voucher to do this. The problem with the law is (1) that districts choose where the student will transfer, not the parent, and (2) there is no transportation provided. These two items make the current law very ineffective.

    If legislators were really interested in giving students in underperforming schools options, they would work to fix laws already on the books rather than proposing a voucher program that would not address the issues they say they are trying to fix. Furthermore, this transfer of public dollars to private institutions with no accountability and no obligation to follow education laws that public schools are governed by is malpractice on the part of our legislators.

Place 7
  • Lynn Davenport:
    My focus is on giving RISD kids the best education, not about giving alternatives to RISD. If kids need alternatives, we should be asking ourselves why we can't meet their needs. I oppose vouchers under any name (Education Savings Accounts) and believe they undermine our right to 'public free education' under the Texas Constitution. The same people imposing the invalid STAAR accountability system are the same ones pushing school choice vouchers (i.e. Senator Larry Taylor from Friendswood, TX). They seem to have created the problem only to solve it with an exit strategy they call 'school choice'. I testified against vouchers at the Senate Education Committee hearings last fall.

  • Kristin Kuhne (incumbent):
    I oppose vouchers. The Texas Senate voucher bill (SB3) was approved earlier this week and sent to the Texas House. While this was a much narrower bill than the original, any version of a voucher is wrong for Texas children. I will continue to voice my opposition to any bill that drains tax dollars away from already under-funded public schools to subsidize private education. There’s no accountability for private schools accepting vouchers which could lead to the misuse of public funds. Vouchers don’t offer real choice to low income families because voucher payments would not cover the full cost of tuition and expenses. Finally, there is no compelling evidence that vouchers improve academic achievement and recent studies have shown that performance declined for students using vouchers at private schools. Instead of diverting money from public schools, we need a real fix to the "byzantine" school finance system the provides adequate resources for our students and schools.

Part 2 of 6.

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