Civil Rights Breakthrough Or ‘school Voucher on Steroids?' You Decide.

AUSTIN --Texas public school students of any income bracket could receive some state money to help them switch to private schools under an "education savings accounts" bill unveiled by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Senate Republicans on Monday.The bill, which also includes private school scholarships funded through tax credits for certain businesses, would create a universal benefit.But Patrick and bill author Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said that doesn't mean there would be a huge exodus of students from the state's public schools."If 'maxed out,' it'll be about 15,000 students the first year - 15,000 out of 5.2 million" who would leave traditional public schools, Patrick said."So when people say the sky is falling and we're undermining education, no, we're not," he said. "What we are doing is providing a choice for parents who are not wealthy enough to choose a school for their child. We're providing choice for students trapped in failing schools."Education savings account bills have been passed in five other states. But they are so new, little research has been conducted on whether they've helped participating families' children succeed.Under Taylor's bill, any family, rich or poor, whose children had been in public schools for the entire previous academic year could request that the comptroller deposit into their new savings accounts a share of current state school aid.More money would be deposited for households with lower incomes, and even more than that for students with disabilities.The precise figures for how much were not immediately available from Patrick's office. A fiscal note estimating the bill's costs has not been prepared.Chandra Villanueva of the center-left think tank the Center for Public Policy Priorities said that in 2015, the deposits would have been about $5,400 a student.In lower-income homes, the deposit that year would have been about $6,800; and for a disabled student, about $8,100, she said.Parents could use the money for private school, tuition, tutoring, online classes and related expenses, such as purchasing curriculum materials."It is time that Texas catch up with the rest of the country and give every parent their option to pick the best school for their child," Patrick said. "This really is the civil right [issue] of our time."Several teacher and school groups blasted the bill as offering little to no regulation of private schools and vendors who would benefit."At a time when the state's public schools are being held to increasingly rigorous accountability standards, lawmakers should not allow public, taxpayer dollars to be spent by private or religious schools or by parents that do not have to meet the same standards," said Amy Beneski of the Texas Association of School Administrators.Taylor, chairman of the chamber's Education Committee, responded to a reporter's questions in that vein by saying "the private schools have the best accountability in the world - [customers] don't have to go there."Unlike last session's voucher-type bill that the Senate passed on tax-credit scholarships, Taylor's new bill would forego only tax receipts from the Texas insurance premium tax paid by insurers, not the business-franchise tax. They would pay for up to $100 million of scholarships for low-income, foster and military families' children to go to private school, Taylor said.He said certain families could qualify for both the savings accounts and the scholarships. But families tapping both could only use scholarships to cover the shortfall between their savings account money and the cost of private school tuition plus transportation."I want to maximize choices for parents and student," he said.  Continue reading...

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