Lawmakers Ready to Fight
Four months before the Texas Legislature convenes, battle lines are already forming over whether the state should help pay for some public school students to attend private schools.
The politically explosive issue of publicly funded private school vouchers had fallen to the wayside in recent years. But the landscape will change next year when there will be more conservatives in the Legislature that ever before.
Opponents of private school vouchers say they are ready for a fight next session.
Over the past decade, Texas alone accounted for half of the new public school enrollment in the country, said Louis Malfaro, coordinator of the Coalition for Public Schools.
With such a fast-growing student population and changing demographics, Malfaro said, private school vouchers are a distraction from finding the real solutions.
"The Legislature needs to be talking about building ships, massive ships, to carry the minds of children into the future, not fiddling around with life boats," said Malfaro, whose coalition includes teacher groups, the Texas PTA, faith organizations and other opponents of private school vouchers.
A 2011 analysis from the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank from Chicago, estimated that more than 300,000 students — 6 percent of total public enrollment — would transfer to private schools with the grants, thus reducing state education costs by about $1 billion a year.
In the wake of a $5.4 billion cut in public education funding last session, Boyle said, "it seems like the top priority should be to restore some of those cuts, not siphon off more for private schools."
But voucher supporters say private schools will spur changes in public education to better serve students and parents.