By Gabriela Sanders
When the pandemic hit, due to shortages of electronics in my school, separate lesson plans had to be created for students with and without electronic devices. Some students had to rely on paper packets because they lacked electronic devices at home and were placed on waiting lists to receive devices.
The pandemic exposed many challenges faced by our public schools. Although school vouchers have been proposed as a solution, they may not be the best course of action, as they divert critical resources from public to private schools.
According to the National Education Association, public schools serve 90% of students in Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott and Republican legislators have introduced a plan to privatize public education through educational savings accounts or vouchers.
The current proposed bill, SB 1, presented by Sen. Charles Creighton, R-Conroe, would allocate $500 million toward a voucher program that can be used at private schools. Lawmakers supporting SB 1 believe vouchers will reduce educational costs. However, academic research on voucher programs from other states found that vouchers are costly as taxpayers must fund public and private schools.
Implementing vouchers is detrimental to minority students, the economically disadvantaged, and students with disabilities. Supporters of SB 1 also believe vouchers increase student achievement. However, education and policy analysts warn vouchers segregate students and negatively affect student achievement.
The Texas American Federation of Teachers reports vouchers are ineffective in improving financial accountability. Specifically, under SB 1, private schools will not be held to financial transparency, as the Texas Education Agency will not oversee private schools. TEA is responsible for addressing school finance within public schools.
Additionally, private schools are not obligated to disclose how they allocate funds. In contrast, public schools are subject to regular financial audits and reports. Public schools have democratically elected school board members who make decisions in the best interest of a school district and are obligated to policies and procedures.
Public schools were already underfunded when the pandemic hit. My school did not have enough electronic devices to provide students at the start of the pandemic. According to the NEA, redirecting funds to private schools negatively affects minority students and students with disabilities. The NEA says that private schools will not be required to adhere to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which protects special education students and provides individualized services and resources.
Private schools may refuse to accept minority students and students with disabilities, therefore increasing segregation of students. A recent report by UnidosUS, a National Hispanic advocacy group, revealed learning gaps among Hispanic students in math and reading compared to non-Hispanic peers. This report is concerning because in Texas, over half of public students are Hispanic, and the largest school district in El Paso, the El Paso Independent School District, serves 84.5% of Hispanic students.
Therefore, limited funding would affect student achievement among our students and increase learning disparities between Hispanic and non-Hispanic students. Losing after-school and extra-curricular programs would negatively impact student achievement.
Vouchers would take our most essential resource, our teachers. According to the TEA, approximately 50,000 teachers left the profession within the 2022-2023 school year, an attrition rate of 13%. TEA reports that burnout and pay were some of the reasons why teachers left the profession.
When there is a teacher shortage, a district may respond by increasing class size, which decreases individualized attention. Unfortunately, vouchers would further exacerbate the teacher shortage by impeding the growth of future teachers. The Economic Policy Institute reported that private schools often hire uncertified teachers, causing a ripple effect that discourages young teachers from pursuing certification.
Aspiring teachers may question becoming certified, especially since public school teachers’ pay is not significantly higher than private schools.
School voucher research has yet to find any positive, significant student outcomes. Vouchers harm minority students, the economically disadvantaged, and students with disabilities. Therefore, we must advocate and hold our lawmakers accountable for investing in our schools. We must voice our concerns to our lawmakers when specific programs, like school vouchers, threaten our schools.
As a community, we can join local educational advocacy groups and contact the lawmakers in educational committees in Austin to voice our concerns and ensure our El Paso students receive a quality education.
Gabriela Sanders is a Worden School of Social Service graduate student at the Our Lady of the Lake University. She resides in the El Paso area and is an educator.