February 15, 2017
Guest Viewpoint
By Charles R. Stafford

The Truth about Senate Bill 3

Senate Bill (SB) 3 would establish two forms of vouchers: Education Savings Accounts (ESA) and Tax Credit Scholarships/Educational Expense Assistance. As proposed, the plan will drain up to $100 million from already-underfunded Texas public schools for tax credit scholarships and will provide no limit on the amount of state tax dollars that could be used for education savings accounts.

Today I am going to focus on the Education Savings Accounts—which open the door for parents to use tax dollars for private and religious schools and for home schooling—outlining what I believe to be the three failings of this proposed plan, which are easily remembered by the name: Education Savings Account.
  • Education—There is no mechanism in the bill that will ensure that the students who use ESAs will receive an education that meets any standard of quality. In fact, the proposed bill prohibits any state agency or the State Board of Education from taking steps to “regulate the educational program of an education service provider or vendor of educational products that receives funds distributed under this program.” So ESA students can be taught anything—or not. There is no assurance of education.
  • Savings—It is puzzling to try to find savings in this proposal. There will be no savings to taxpayers. We will keep sending money to the state. There will be no savings to school districts. If one student in every classroom in Texas used an ESA to leave, there would be no cost savings to public schools because they would still be paying the same number of teachers and the same air-conditioning bills. There will be no savings to the state. In fact, a new bureaucracy will be created to administer the ongoing distribution of taxpayer dollars to whomever is chosen to provide “education.”
  • Account—SB 3 states very plainly that there won’t be much effort to see that recipients account for how the money is used. Other than outlining some very general categories for the use of ESA funds, no oversight is described. In fact, in the opening paragraphs, SB 3 states that part of its purpose is to “promote and preserve the liberties and rights of the people.” That seems a very odd statement when viewed from the taxpayers’ point of view. In fact, ESAs seem designed to preserve the liberties of the “education service providers” who will receive the dollars the rest of us paid in taxes. There will be no accounting to taxpayers about where the money goes. I can’t imagine less transparency for public dollars.

Lawmakers are talking out of both sides of their mouths on all this. First, they say that in the public school realm there must be transparency, scrutiny, and accountability. (I agree with those requirements.) Then, these same lawmakers face the other way and propose ESAs where they “promote and preserve liberties” funded with tax dollars where there is no oversight, assessment, or standards of quality. It’s a baffling contradiction in the use of public funds.

In summary, what we have in SB 3 is a proposed law that will (1) take tax dollars away from the public schools that are already struggling to provide classrooms for a student population of 5.3 million students that grows by 80,000 additional students every year, (2) funnel those public funds to 13,000-15,000 students with no safeguards relating to educational outcomes or fiscal responsibility, (3) create a new bureaucracy to administer the intricacies of giving away tax dollars to anyone who applies for them, and (4) create an incentive for the establishment of fly-by-night “schools” that will exist for the sole purpose of receiving the tax dollars the State of Texas is giving away.

Every Texan should be appalled that this scheme was actually written down on paper.

Charles R. Stafford serves as a trustee for the Denton Independent School District and currently holds the position of President of the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB). TASB is a nonprofit association established in 1949 to serve local school boards. School board members are the largest group of publicly elected officials in the state. The districts they represent serve more than 5.3 million public school students.

For more information, contact Barbara Williams, TASB, 512.340.2933.