In “Grants could open private school doors for more kids” (Herald-Zeitung, Jan. 31), NBISD assistant superintendent Victoria Pursch says “... anybody receiving Texas taxpayer funds needs to meet the same requirements as public schools. If we’re spending Texas public money, we want a measure of accountability so we know the money we spend is going towards what it is supposed to be.”

I mean no disrespect to Pursch, NBISD and CISD, which are clearly among the top public school districts in Texas, but her statement illustrates misconceptions about school choice and the Taxpayer Savings Grant program.

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(29) comments

ARLEDGE

Lastly, on another issue, but closely related to the current issues for voters and taxpayers is the concept of "online classes" or "remote learning" etc. I have one and only one thing to say about that........."Who monitors the test taking and how do they do so?" Without accountability the whole idea is goofy, to fancy speak.

ARLEDGE

And, if you want to explore further, please read this report by the State Comptroller regarding COLLEGES, debt and funding.

http://www.window.state.tx.us/specialrpt/student_loan/

Costs in Texas for students attending PUBLIC universities have risen by 344% since between 1990 and 2010 the HIGHEST RATE IN THE ENTIRE UNITED STATES.

Why?

Because our State leaders(elected and appointed politicians) are defunding Texas Public education on all levels.

A shame.

Just saying

ARLEDGE

Ok, I will.

http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/ED/htm/ED.61.htm#61.221

The Texas Tuition Equalization Grant program is for college students/adults, not public high schools and children.

The same is true for the Texas College Work Study Program,

and

Pell Grants as well.

Further differentiating the ideas, is that the money for the above named programs goes to ADULTS who are attending colleges. A large portion of the funds for all of the above programs come from the Federal Government as well.

The voucher program source of money to give away is all from property taxes paid by Texas taxpayers.

The first two Texas based programs are very nearly the same as Obama's proposals to fund college educations for more Americans. Pell grants are Federal creations.

These are not public moneys used to replace the public education system in Texas with private and religious schools, as the intended by the school voucher program. This is the core of the argument about the constitutionality of the SB 276

/?

Don Volz

Bertelson, your point is well taken, but the bill's eligibility criteria is a separate issue from the bill's constitutionality. I wasn't addressing eligibility criteria in my post immediately below. Mr. Arledge claims that SB 276 is unconstitutional and my arguments show very clearly that he is simply wrong on that point.

I agree that wealthy families do not need any state assistance to send their children to private school. Perhaps SB 276 should be amended to include an income ceiling. If so, I would argue that it should be no lower that $250,000 in Adjusted Gross Income, as anything lower begins to unfairly discriminate against middle class families.

I should also point out that for each child in a private school (regardless of family wealth or income), state taxpayers save the $8,500 per year that it costs to educate that child in the public school system. Even if wealthy families receive grants under SB 276, state taxpayers still avoid $3,500 per year in education costs for each such child. The grants save the taxpayers money regardless of the eligibility criteria it's just a matter of how much they save.

Let me close with this fact. Taxpayers save money whenever a student transfers from a public school to a private school (either $8,500/yr with SB 276 or $3,500/yr without SB 276). The opposite is true whenever the transfer goes the other direction, i.e., taxpayer costs increase by those same amounts whenever a private school student transfers to a public school.

That being the case, I pose the following questions to you:
1) Which approach do you think provides parents the most freedom at the lowest cost to state taxpayers?
2) Which behavior should the Texas citizens encourage?

John BERTELSEN

Mr. Volz,
Please rethink your arguments. All of the programs you mentioned are financial assistance programs that have maximum income limits that the individual must be below to qualify. SB276 does not have any income limits which allows the wealthiest people in the State to receive government funds for choosing to educate their children in a private school.

Don Volz

Mr. Arledge, repeatedly stating your position doesn't make it any more valid or applicable with respect to the constitutionality of SB 276. I've already pointed out in an earlier comment how and why the constitutional provisions you cited do not apply to SB 276. Can you specify where I erred in that analysis?

Get back to me when you can articulate how SB 276 differs substantively from the Texas Tuition Equalization Grant Program, the Texas College Work Study Program, and the Federal Pell Grant Program. Like SB 276, all three of those programs grant public money to students/parents for their use in defraying their education expenses at both public and private schools. No one, other than you perhaps, considers these programs unconstitutional. That's because the grants do not go directly to the schools from the government, but rather to the parents/students who then determine the school where they will be used.

SB 276 operates in exactly the same way as these three programs. A student who receives a grant under SB276 may use the grant to pay for his or her education at any accredited school, public or private.

ARLEDGE

The use of public money to fund private schools is unconstitutional. Period. The legislature is free to pass the law, it will be struck down. Our founding fathers were clear.
Change the constitution, then you get a different answer. It is not even complicated.

It does get complicated when you inject religion into the governmental world. Very Complicated, that is why our National and State Constitutions prohibit that kind of behavior.

Regan SMITH

"PK-12 public education is provided at no charge..."

Well, technically that's not correct. True, most parents do not have to shell out for tuition at PK-12 public schools, but it's not "at no charge," unless said parents do not own any real estate.

Every person, parent or not, who owns property pays for public education -- it's the largest chunk of taxes any of us Texans owe, after federal income tax. As one of those non-parents, I don't object in principle to paying taxes for education, so long as it actually goes toward education and not toward:

* Taj Mahal-type administrative buildings
* Administrators receiving huge bucks for little to no value to actual education
* Funding the football program for a select few students and not funding music, art, woodshop, etc. courses for far more than a select few
* Keeping sub-standard teachers onboard

So if a particular school isn't cutting the mustard, and my neighbors want to send their children to a better quality school, but can't afford to fully fund a private, but better, school -- then I'm ok with my tax dollars going to help them help their children get a better education.

The better educated their children are, the better for our country's future.

Jim ALSTON

I was under the impression that the taxpayers established public schools - not the government. The government then generously offered to assist in collecting tax monies for them. Then, it follows that the taxpayers' monies should go wherever the taxpayers want it to.

John BERTELSEN

Volz,
The programs you mention are financial assistance programs which is an entirely different issue. PK-12 public education is provided at no charge, so therefore one does not need financial assistance to attend. I stand by my belief that if the government has established an entity to provide a service (PK-12 education), then the funds designated for that purpose should not be transferred to a private organization.

Don Volz

@ Bertelsen and @Wade Arledge

OK, Bertelsen, it appears you're OK with your federal taxes going to students for use at any accredited post-secondary institution - public, private, secular, or religious - but you feel differently about your state taxes. In your view, state tax revenues should only be usable at public post-secondary institutions operated by the state.

If that is your position, I'm struggling to define the underlying principle. It seems to me that if, on principle, you oppose public funds going to private schools, you wouldn't care which public entity took those funds from you.

Be that as it may, what is your position regarding Texas Tuition Equalization Grant Program and the Texas College Work-Study Program?

The sole purpose of the TEG Program is "To provide grant aid to financially needy students to enable them to attend PRIVATE, non-profit colleges or universities in Texas." It was budgeted at $180 million in the 2014-2015 biennium to do precisely what you say you oppose, to provide public funds for students to use at private schools. By comparison, the Texas Grant program received 4 times that amount, or $724 million.

The Texas College Work-Study Program was created in 1989 by the 71st Texas Legislature to provide financially needy students enrolled at Texas public and PRIVATE institutions with part-time jobs funded by the state and the employer (Texas Education Code, §56.071). It was budgeted $18.8 million in 2014-2015.


Mr. Arledge, with all due respect to your legal background, the sections of the Texas Constitution that you cite simply are not relevant to SB 276.

Article 1., Sec. 7: "APPROPRIATIONS FOR SECTARIAN PURPOSES. No money shall be appropriated, or drawn from the Treasury for the benefit of any sect, or religious society, theological or religious seminary; nor shall property belonging to the State be appropriated for any such purposes."

SB276 does not appropriate funds for the benefit of an religious sect, society, or seminary - it appropriates the money directly to parents for their use in educating their children. Whether or not that money is ever received by a religious school is solely a parental decision. If SB 276 violates this section of the Texas Constitution, then so do the Tuition Equalization Grant and Texas College Work Study programs referenced above.

Article 7 Section 5(C) refers to the Permanent School Fund and to the Available School Fund, neither of which is implicated as a source of funds in SB 276. The money for Taxpayer Savings Grants is expected to come from the General Fund.

John BERTELSEN

Volz,
The people that you suggest are in control of public education, are not only members of our society, but in most cases they were selected by members of our society to make those educational decisions for us. I'm not stating that I agree with their decisions, which obviously you do not, but unless we eliminate public education or modify the way decisions are reached, then they should make the decisions for everyone using public eductation, not individuals making their own decisions.

As for the examples you used to discredit my belief of not using tax dollars for private institutions when a government entity provides the same service, I did not say publicly-funded, I said government entity that provides the service. Pell Grants are a Federal program and there is not a Federal University System. Texas does have a public university system, and Texas Grants must be used in a Texas public university....not private. There are tax-supported healthcare systems, but the government does not own and operate any healthcare facilities that I know of oher than the VA System that you mentioned which may allow Veterans to use private facilities due to problems within the VA system, such as distance or wait times.

We do agree on one of your statements. I do support allowing parents to chose which of the "public" PK-12 schools they want their children to attend.

ARLEDGE

I have never commented before, but WAKE UP. Read this and get back to me. America and Texas are secular governments. For a reason. We had a revolution with England about it. We wrote constitutions about it. People are willfully ignorant about history, and yes some ignorance is due to lack of education.
Read this link to the Texas Constitution. http://www.constitution.legis.state.tx.us/ The Bill of Rights are set out in Article 1. Especially sections 4,5,6, and 7. Then scroll on down and read Article 7 section 5(c).
We do not need religious schools that are funded with public money, nor do we need non public schools funded that way either. People can choose to educate their children how ever they wish. But not with public money.

Clykins Staff
Chris Lykins

@ALSTON

"Those "previously established expectation standards" you cite were set based on what? They are based on the level achieved by previous classes."

No. They are based on academic standards set by the Texas Education Agency, Legislature, and to some degree the federal government. The previous classes have nothing, zero, zilch, to do with it. They are not relevant. You could have one class where everyone fails. Let's go crazy and say they all score zeros. The standards don't migrate downward. They do track improvement among cohorts, but it's part of Adequate Yearly Progress, and in no way does it change the standard requirements.

"Stop and realize - 50% of all doctors and lawyers graduate in the lowest half of their classes. The 50th percentile then becomes the "standard expectation level.""

For whatever reason you seem to be fixated on the idea that expectations or standards are tied to outcomes — and to be honest, no idea where you get that. It's simply not true. Nobody's grabbing the curve and moving it backward every semester to align with the midpoint. And yes, 50 percent of every graduating class is in the lowest half of their class. I mean, you basically said 50 percent is 50 percent. Which, yes, because that's how numbers work. But that class could all be 99's with the differential taking place six decimal points to the right, and it's still technically accurate while simultaneously being highly misleading.

Let's simplify here. If the standard is you have to be able to add 2+2 and you can't do it, we don't change the standard to "Let's see if he can add 1+1 instead" we find out what is wrong with your inability to do simple logical arithmetic and we fix it.

Jim ALSTON

@Lykins - Those "previously established expectation standards" you cite were set based on what? They are based on the level achieved by previous classes. If those previous classes were just average, the new "expected standards" would relect the median level, and would then become a continuing flattening out or downward adjustment of the expectation level. Stop and realize - 50% of all doctors and lawyers graduate in the lowest half of their classes. The 50th percentile then becomes the "standard expectation level". The same is true of all disciplines and our public school system is no exception.

The only point of contention is who gets to receive taxpayer education funds.

Don Volz

@ Bertelsen -
First, I reject your premise that "Public Education is a reflection of society. Are we to blame society's problems on public education, or should we blame society for public edcation's problems?"

That may have been true at one time, but in 2015 it's more accurate to say that public education is a reflection of what the U. S. Dept. of Ed., the State Board of Education, TEA, and teacher unions have decided it should be. That is why I believe we need to put parents back in control.

I also reject your second argument: “As to choice, if the government has an entity to provide the service, then our tax dollars should not be allowed to select another service. If the government does not have any entity to provide the service, then we should be allowed to choose where we spend our tax dollars."

If you really subscribe to that principle, then you also believe that
- private colleges, universities, and technical schools should not be allowed to accept Pell Grants, Texas Grants, or any other forms of federal /state student financial aid, that such aid should only be usable at government funded institutions like community colleges, public universities, and military academies;
- private hospitals and urgent care clinics in areas with tax-supported hospitals or hospital districts should not be allowed to accept Medicaid or Medicare patients/payments;
- veterans should NOT be allowed to use their VA benefits to obtain treatments and medications from any providers other than VA hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies (given the recent scandals, I think many Vets will disagree);
- veterans should not be able to use their G.I. Bill or Hinson-Hazlewood education benefits anyplace other than a state or federal college, university, or technical schools;
- Planned Parenthood and other private women’s clinics should receive no government reimbursement for services that are also available from tax-supported clinics located in the same general area;
- etc.

Why is it unacceptable for parents to pick from among private AND public K-12 schools, much like they currently do at the college level? Why must parents be forced to use the dollars allocated by the state for their child's education at the public school closest to where they happen to live?

Clykins Staff
Chris Lykins

@ALSTON - They don't set the standard based on the people in the classroom. The standard is based on the expectations previously established regardless of the ability of the student to meet them. That's the point of education, to take people from below the standard, above the standard.

This isn't a question of IQ — that's why we have gifted and talented and special education programs for people who fall too far on either side of that line. So, not everyone is taught equally. People get individual instruction based on what they need to succeed and, indeed, to excel. There is no "standard" IQ level.

Jim ALSTON

Bertelsen, you have nailed the problem - public education must accept everyone. That means that 50% will be above and 50% below the "standard" IQ level, and since the public education facilities must teach all equally, at least 50% will not be challenged by the curriculum. Is that fair to the parents (taxpayers) of that 50%? Is it even fair to the lower 50% who then get given a diploma that many cannot even read? Is that fair to anyone?

I still contend that the issue is not really about the quality of education at all, but is instead a squabble over who controls and spends the billions of dollars spent on education. In my opinion, the various ISD's, controlled by teachers unions, haven't had a good track record thus far, so it's high time to try something else, like allowing competition for the public's money. Isn't that the way the American way is supposed to be - competitive bidding on a level playing field?

John BERTELSEN

Which came first? The chicken or the egg?

Public Education is a reflection of society. Are we to blame society's problems on public education, or should we blame society for public edcation's problems?

As to choice, if the government has an entity to provide the service, then our tax dollars should not be allowed to select another service. If the government does not have any entity to provide the service, then we should be allowed to choose where we spend our tax dollars.

It seems that the real debate should be about improving public education or eliminating it. A comparison between public and private education is impossible because private education selects their students, while public education must accept everyone.

Clykins Staff
Chris Lykins

@VOLZ - I'm not just a parent, but I have friends who are teachers. I've also spent a good chunk of the last couple of decades covering education, so it's not merely anecdotal.

The idea that the level of education that kids get today being several notches higher than what was offered previously is pretty easy to mathematically graph. The standards are higher. Kids are still passing them. They're pushing for higher standards and higher passing numbers. Notice I'm saying standards — not honors, AP, or SAGE.

@brtexn - Indoctrination and PC rules aren't objective metrics, so I can't really speak to those. Some people would say that teaching the planet is several billion years old would be indoctrination. Some would say talking about the slave trade would be PC. I'm not bothered by either of those things.

Don Volz

Perhaps, Chris, but what are they NOT learning. I've seen enough Jay Walking and Watters' World episodes to question what today's teenagers are learning in American History, World History, Political Science, Economics, Ethics and Civics.

Kudos to you and your 10 year old, but I have to ask you - when you say "they," are you referring ALL the kids, as your comments imply, or only to those in AP classes and the like? I guess I'm questioning if you can extrapolate your own parental experience as being generally applicable to the whole population of 10 year olds.

Bill RUSSELL

So Mr. Lykins, is your point that school curriculum has evolved? Because along with the science, math and computer technology curriculum that has changed, so have a lot of other things. These other changes (mostly indoctrination and PC rules) is what Mr. Volz and so many others are concerned about. More money for public schools will not change the level of education significantly if at all. However, being able to affordably choose another place to educate your children will significantly change what kids are being taught along with the core curriculum.

Clykins Staff
Chris Lykins

I'm not sure when the last time you looked at what kids are learning, but I've got a 10 year old who's learning things that they were teaching in late middle school and high school in the late 80s and early 1990s. They're also learning programming and logic at a level that was never required when I was in school. They tackle far more complex science problems and math than before — to the point that many parents are helpless to provide much in the way of aid with some homework.

I'd bet money that many of the adults out there — even college educated — would crash and burn on the STARR test. It's a different world.

Jim ALSTON

It would be interesting to see a study on the number of kids who drop out of public schools simply because their minds aren't being challenged by a system that is geared toward the lowest common denominator of mental ability.

Years ago, America had a system to take care of the slowest learners by holding them back a year or transferring them to a special school that could devote more time and effort to them. Under that system and programs to challenge the fastest learners, a high school diploma was a ticket to better paying jobs, higher education choices, etc., But the social liberals and teachers reluctant to face irate parents when little Johnny couldn't keep up with his classmates and afraid of hurting his little feelings, slowly lowered the curricula standards to the level that little Johnny could handle. Never mind that the majority of his classmates were no longer challenged.

All this was done with public tax dollars. Is that how you want to keep "educating" our children, who are now educationally below many other countries? Parents have the right and obligation to see their tax dollars spent for the best product, and right now, that product is not being provided by the public school systems.

Don Volz

Mr. Bertelsen, you already give people your tax dollars to achieve their individual preferences in all sorts of ways. Your tax dollars go to EBT cards that give recipients choices over how and where those funds are spent. Same with cash provided through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Same for the Pell Grants that families can use at any college or university, public or private.
School Choice at the K-12 level is no different than any of these.

What differentiates your examples from mine is that:

1. Parents aren't clamoring for more choices in public transportation, public parks, waste disposal services, or police protection. But they are tired of their children being trapped in public schools where they aren't challenged, aren't engaged, but are forced to accept curriculum that conflicts with their parents' values.

2. The Return On Investment (ROI) and the Point of Diminishing Returns for expenditures in public transportation, public parks, and waste disposal services are fairly demonstrable. The same cannot be said for public education. Study after study has shown that despite enormous increases in per-student funding over the last 40 years, K-12 student performance has remained flat at best. See summary at:
www.cato.org/blog/public-school-spending-theres-chart .

Believe it or not, I used to share your position on School Choice. Then I educated myself regarding the actual outcomes from student choice programs around the country, for both public and private schools. I've seen the improved student outcomes and how popular these programs have become, among minority and disadvantaged populations, as well as taxpayers. I urge you to do the same - you might be surprised by what you find.

Here are two places you can start:
www.ncpa.org/pub/st345
and
www.edchoice.org/Research/Reports/A-Win-Win-Solution--The-Empirical-Evidence-on-School-Vouchers.aspx

I find it interesting that you and other progressives harp so loudly about income inequality and disadvantaged populations, yet you oppose the very programs, like school choice, that are proven to overcome those disparities.

John BERTELSEN

Mr. Volz, I support your right to choose schools for your children that share your moral and philosphical values and do not admit what you believe are undesirable associates for your childen, but public tax dollars are for public education...period! Do not ask me as a taxpayer to give you my tax dollars to achieve your individual preference.

What would be next?

Parochial School Funding? Are our tax dollars going to religious schools that might not be our chosen belief?

Public transportation? I don't like to ride a bus and prefer to use a taxi. Should a city give me a portion of the funds they use for busses to purchase my taxi ride?

Public Parks? I don't like a particular park and prefer another one. Should the city transfer my share of the tax dollars from the park I dislike to the one that I prefer?

Waste disposal? Public garbage pickup is more expensive than private pickup. Should the city give me my portion of the cost of garbage pickup so that I can purchase private pickup?

Police protection? What if I wanted to hire private protection? Should the city give me my portion of the tax dollars used for that purpose?

As for all of the money that the state has been saving on public education because some children do not attend public schools, where is it?

Tax dollars for private education is a very slippery slope and one that I hope we do not choose to go down.

Don Volz

Tony Magnon, you misrepresent the facts.

The state currently provides about $8,500 to each school district for each student ENROLLED in that district. Districts get no state funds for non-enrolled students. If a child leaves a public school to attend a private school or a charter school outside of the district, the district will no longer receive the $8,500 for that child because the district no longer bears the cost of educating that child. So school districts already forego $8,500 for each district child who is home schooled or placed in a private or out-of-district charter school. Those are facts.

Under SB 276, 60% of that $8,500 (or about $5,100), money that the district was NOT GOING TO GET ANYWAY, is provided to the student's parents to defray the student's education expenses outside of the public school system. Again, unless the state forces the parents to educate their child in a district school, the district was NEVER going to get that money. How can it lose money that it was never going to receive in the first place?

The remaining 40% (about $3,400) remains with the state for other public education priorities. The state could even send that 40% to the districts hit hardest by the loss of students, money they can use to improve their schools to retain more students in the future. It’s conceivable that the district can receive $3,100 for every child in the district that does NOT attend public school in the district. Everybody wins, especially the students.

If you remember nothing else, remember this. Parents are ultimately responsible for the education of their children, not the state. Because the state recognizes the importance of an educated citizenry, the state funds a public education system to assist parents in meeting that responsibility. But where is it written that the state's assistance must be limited to that system? The state provides all sorts of assistance to needy families, including food stamps and cash assistance programs like TANF (Temporary assistance for Needy Families). The state does not force parents to spend this aid with state-specified stores and providers. The parents are free to choose the store or provider that works best for them. Shouldn’t this also be true for the dollars provided by the state for a child’s education? Shouldn’t the parent have the freedom to direct their child’s “share” of that money to the school or service that best meets the education needs of their child? If not, why not?

MAGNON

Choice is always the word used by proponents of charter schools and vouchers. I guess the word has a nice ring to it, so they continue to chant this mantra day after day, hoping that the rest of us will be lulled into accepting it as a "fait-accompli"

What they don't want to tell you is that this will divert important revenue from our public schools to private schools. Private schools can decide who they accept as students, and a voucher does not mean that they have to accept any student walking through their doors. What they will do is cherry pick the students who they think are good candidates and reject those they deem unprepared.

This is nothing more than a raid on public school funds and we must resist the mantra of "choice" or see our public schools decline.

Jim ALSTON

Despite the advantages of school choice, the teacher/educator unions will fight to prevent it because it decreases their amount of education monies and eventially, even the role of unions themselves. They are unimportant and vulnerable and know it.

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