"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Backdoor Voucher Attempt in Texas

Here is another case of conservatives cynically using the plight of the poor as an excuse to subvert public policy for the purpose of subverting public institutions. And one may ask, as Jon Stewart asked Grover Norquist last night, why the free market zealots continue to insist on tax-supported vouchers if the free market is the answer to all questions, educational or otherwise. Is the "free market" on welfare? From the Austin American-Statesman:
By Kate Alexander

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

In a statewide plan to reduce the number of high school dropouts, school voucher opponents see a backdoor opening for using public money to pay for students enrolling in private or religious schools.

The legislatively mandated plan up for final approval today will set guidelines for more than $107 million in grant money for districts, charter schools and nonprofits to improve Texas high schools.

The plan includes broad priorities of better preparing students for college and the work force by encouraging them to take college courses while in high school, helping students prone to dropping out and redesigning troubled high schools. It does not explicitly address vouchers but includes language that suggests they could be on the table.

Members of the High School Completion and Success Initiative Council — including Education Commissioner Robert Scott and Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes — did not rule out the use of vouchers when pressed by opponents Monday.

Vouchers could be useful for helping students who have dropped out of high school to complete their education, Scott said. "Anybody who can get a kid a diploma, I'm all for."

Scott said a voucher program could be created through the Texas Education Agency's rule-making authority.

But to do so, opponents said, would be overstepping.

"It is the role of elected officials to create public policy," said Richard Kouri of the Texas State Teachers Association.

Kathy Miller, president of the anti-voucher Texas Freedom Network, said it would be an end-run around the Legislature, which has rejected voucher programs. She also questioned whether the council has the authority to create a voucher program.

State Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, chairman of the House Education Committee, said he plans to withhold judgment until he sees the final product. Lawmakers did not discuss vouchers last year when they formed the council nor has there been much of an appetite for vouchers in the Legislature, he said.

Don McAdams, president of the Center for Reform of School Systems and a member of the council, said, "If it was the intent to open the door to vouchers, it would explicitly say so."

kalexander@statesman.com; 445-3618

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