Tag Archives: ESA

Senate signals intent to vote on divisive voucher and payroll deduction bills

Two bills staunchly opposed by the education community are likely to be heard by the full Texas Senate as early as Wednesday, March 29. The voucher bill, Senate Bill (SB) 3 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), and Sen. Joan Huffman’s (R-Houston) SB 13, which would eliminate educators’ rights to use payroll deduction for their association dues, both landed on the Senate’s Intent Calendar this week. Under current Senate rules, three-fifths of the senators present must still vote to allow the bills to be debated.

No Vouchers No SB3SB 3 has been identified as one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top three priorities for the 85th Legislature. It creates two forms of private school vouchers: a corporate tax credit for funding scholarships to private schools and an Education Savings Account (ESA) program that gives parents public funds to spend on their children’s home or private schooling expenses. ATPE members have long opposed all forms of vouchers for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that private and home schools are unregulated and would not have to account for how they spend those public tax dollars.

STOP2The payroll deduction bill, SB 13, is also on the lieutenant governor’s broader list of legislative priorities this session. Often referred to by its backers as a bill dealing with “union dues,” the bill primarily targets educators by taking away their right to deduct voluntary association dues payments from their paychecks. ATPE members make up one of the largest groups of public employees negatively affected by the bill, even though ATPE is not affiliated with any national labor unions, exists only in Texas, supports small business and the right to work, and opposes union-favored tactics such as collective bargaining, strikes, and work stoppages. SB 13 specifically carves out exceptions for police officers, firefighters, and EMS workers who use payroll deduction for their dues to associations and even unions that collectively bargain. Those distinctions between classes of public employees have angered many in the education community and even some lawmakers. Educators and other critics of the bill have also disputed false claims that “taxpayer resources” are being spent on the collection of union or association dues, since there is no evidence of any cost to taxpayers resulting from offering school employees the convenience of payroll deduction that is already used for a host of services, purchases, and donations.

Despite the growing opposition to SB 3 and SB 13, the House’s lack of appetite for wasting time on political battles, and the gaping holes in the logic behind these measures, Gov. Greg Abbott has voiced support for both of these pieces of anti-public education legislation.

Reports surfaced today that backers of the voucher bill are planning to introduce substitute language on the Senate floor that will reduce the bill’s hefty fiscal note and attempt to garner support from some rural Republican senators who have voiced concerns about SB 3. Even if the Senate advances the highly controversial bill, leaders in the House have called the voucher legislation “dead.”

Also today, members of the law enforcement community voiced complaints that the anti-educator SB 13 will similarly harm some members of the law enforcement community, too. On Twitter, an advocacy organization representing police officers said that they had been “publicly misled” about the bill’s impact, noting that it will also prevent thousands of school resource officers from deducting their dues payments:

 

ATPE’s positions on these and other bills are guided by the ATPE Legislative Program adopted by ATPE members every year. ATPE members believe that private school voucher legislation like SB 3 is an irresponsible waste of taxpayer resources. This is particularly true now, when public schools have struggled to recover from massive budget cuts in recent years, state appropriations have lagged, and local taxpayers have been forced to bear an unwieldy share of the funding burden for public education through property taxes while the state’s share of the funding has declined steadily. ATPE has opposed SB 13 and similar bills that would take away educators’ payroll deduction rights, especially when other public employees would continue to enjoy those rights. Allowing educators to deduct their association dues results in no additional cost to taxpayers, and the bills are widely regarded as politically motivated efforts to weaken educator associations and lessen their future influence over other types of education legislation, such as voucher bills.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1ATPE encourages educators to contact their senators about both SB 3 and SB 13, urging them to oppose these bills. ATPE members can visit Advocacy Central to find contact information for their lawmakers along with quick and easy tools for communicating with them.

ESAs: A bad deal for students in need

NO VOUCHERSEarlier this month, I participated in a debate on the political TV show Capital Tonight about school vouchers. Hosted by Karina Kling and featuring opposing guest Randan Steinhauser, who heads the pro-voucher group Texans for Education Opportunity, the show focused specifically on the topic of education savings accounts (ESAs). During the show I touched on the problem ESAs pose to students with special education needs. Unfortunately there is no way to fully respond to such a complex issue in a 30-second response, so let’s take a closer look here on our blog.

How exactly do ESAs work?

An education savings account is literally a bank account set up for an individual student into which the state puts money for a parent to purchase private education services. The amount of money that goes into the account is a percentage of the state’s average per-pupil expenditure based on state and local funds. The base number does not account for federal dollars or charitable dollars. Additionally, the base number does not account for student weights, meaning it does not reflect what the student accepting the voucher would have actually been entitled to under the public school formulas. While there is no bill language yet filed, the numbers that have been most talked about by proponents of the voucher suggest that a Texas ESA would entitle a student who is neither a special education student nor on free or reduced lunch 70% of the statewide average per student expenditure. A student who is on free or reduced lunch but not receiving special education services would receive 90% of the statewide average per student expenditure, while students identified as needing special education services would receive 100% of the statewide average per student expenditure under ideas being floated.

On the surface, it sounds like special education students come out pretty well under this scenario,. But the truth is that students in every category of students would get far less funding than they would if they attended a public school.

At only 70 percent, it’s easy to see that the student who isn’t entitled to either a free or reduced lunch or special education services is getting a significant reduction in what they would receive under the public school formulas (an amount that is already in the bottom 10% of per pupil expenditures nationwide). However, students who are entitled to the free or reduced lunch program or special education services would also be getting significantly less under this proposal, perhaps even to a greater degree than their peers entitled to 70% – here’s how. The combined effect of student weights, federal funding, charitable funding, and federal special education law creates a scenario where students on free and reduced lunch and students identified as needing special education services draw down far more individual funding through the public system than the statewide average per pupil expenditure that would be used to calculate an ESA.

For students receiving a free or reduced lunch, in addition to only receiving 90% of what is an already underfunded average, they would also lose the benefit of the compensatory education weight. Additionally and perhaps more importantly, they likewise lose the effect of federal Title I funding. Federal funding, which is not included in calculating the statewide average per pupil expenditure, makes up about 10% of the total education funding in Texas, which may not sound like much on a per pupil basis. However, federal dollars are not distributed evenly to all students; rather, they are highly concentrated on children of poverty. Additional, there are federal provisions that preclude the state from using federal dollars to supplant state dollars.

The result is that schools serving kids on the free and reduced lunch program, children of poverty, are getting significant federal dollars in addition to state and local dollars to spend educating those children. We have made these expenditure choices as a society because research very clearly shows that these kids need additional programs, which cost additional dollars, in order to successfully receive a quality education. ESAs, and vouchers in general, do not account for this funding, and children on an ESA voucher would simply lose this funding.

The loss for children receiving special education services is potentially even more dramatic. Kids who have been identified as needing special education services can have some of the highest student weights – as much as 500 percent of what the average student in a Texas school district receives. But it is the effect of federal law with regard to special education students and the loss of those rights under an ESA voucher program that is potentially the most troubling issue. Both the courts and federal statute require public schools to provide students identified as needing special education services a free and appropriate public education. Essentially what that mandate boils down to is a requirement that districts spend whatever is necessary to provide the services these children need to be able to learn. This spending requirement is really separate from the amount of funding districts receive for these students. In fact, most districts currently spend substantially more on special education services than the amount of money they receive from the state funding formulas to provide those services, despite the current special education weights. All of that is to say that special education students frequently have far more than 100% of the statewide average per pupil funding through the public school system under current law, which is clearly more than they would receive under an ESA voucher.

A bad choice can be worse than no choice.

The ESA voucher proponent I was debating on the show pointed out that an ESA is a school choice option and that parents who don’t believe it’s the better choice for their student don’t have to take it. While that is strictly speaking true, it’s a choice with some harsh consequences that many parents may not fully realize until it’s too late. Two universal features of ESA legislation have been the requirement to waive your rights under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and your right to attend a public school during the year in which you receive ESA funds. What this means for all voucher recipients is that if they take a voucher and then find that what they can buy with it doesn’t in fact meet their needs they will have to sit out of the public school system for an entire year, potentially a real and permanent setback in a child’s education. This is of particular concern in the context of special education. The ESA program allows parents to purchase piecemeal services, which are often very expensive, much more than the average per pupil expenditure. Unlike the public education system that is required to provide a comprehensive program of general education and special education/therapeutic services for an entire school year regardless of overall individual cost, if a parent spends all their ESA funding on ad hoc therapeutic expenses, they will not receive additional state dollars or logistical/administrative assistance to provide for the academic component of their child’s education or even continued therapeutic services should they run out of funding before the next school year.

There are some genuine areas of needed improvement in the delivery of special education services and identification of students with special needs, but dramatically underfunding these or any, students through an ESA voucher program and encouraging parents to relieve their sometimes justified frustrations by giving up their child’s legal right to a free and appropriate education and simply going it alone is not the answer.

Related: If you live in the Austin viewing area and subscribe to TWC-Spectrum cable, you can watch a rebroadcast of this episode of Capital Tonight on Dec. 19, 2016. Also, check out ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey’s recent op-ed article about private school vouchers here.

House education committee discusses voucher proposals the Senate is expected to push

The House Public Education Committee met for its final meeting before session earlier this week. The interim hearing was focused on its charge to study “school choice,” and marked what is likely to be the last public hearing for two of the committee’s members, Rep. Marsha Farney (R-Georgetown) and Chairman Jimmy Don Aycock (R-Killeen).

The term school choice encompasses a broad spectrum of options, including magnet schools, in-district charter campuses, open enrollment charter schools, other specialized campuses, and open enrollment policies. All of these exist within the public school context. However, in this case, the committee used the hearing to focus on analyzing the effects of the two voucher programs likely to be pursued by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and the upper chamber in the upcoming session.


In related news, Lieutenant Governor Patrick laid out his 85th Legislative Session policy priorities today before business leaders in Dallas. Patrick called “school choice” a top priority, vowing to continue to fight session after session for his “school choice” agenda, an agenda that includes vouchers. Read more about Patrick’s education priorities in tomorrow’s weekly wrap-up.


The committee heard from two panels of invited witnesses. The first panel was made up primarily of proponents of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) and Tax Credit Scholarships, both forms of vouchers or neo-vouchers. The second invited panel, which represented voucher opponents, was comprised of outgoing SBOE member Thomas Ratliff, the head of Pastors for Texas Children Charlie Johnson, and a lead researcher with the National Education Policy Center, Luis Huerta.

With near unanimity both Republican and Democratic committee members questioned, challenged, and ultimately signaled their rejection of the proposals voucher proponents put forward. The reasons brought forward by concerned committee members varied, but the conclusion was all the same: Texas has plenty to build upon within the public education system and they don’t need nor want a state-created, state-run school voucher program.

In a growing twist these legislators are finding support in their opposition to vouchers from what many would consider an unlikely source. At least half a dozen home-school parents were on hand to voice their opinions during public testimony, and they uniformly stated that they were opposed to a state voucher program, including ESAs. One mother put it best in an exchange between herself and Chairman Aycock when she acknowledged that home-school parents don’t want government dollars, they “just want to be left alone.”

For those interested in viewing the full hearing for more information, archived footage can be found here.