Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Surreptitious Segregation: School Choice does not make for choice schools

By Allen R. Gray
NDG Contributing Writer

The problem for Black students with school vouchers and choice schools is that for them there may not be much of a choice. If invoked, voucher programs will force Black students to face the greatest segregationist of them. No. It is not the ghost of George Wallace or the revenant of Jim Crow, but the most formidable segregationist of them all: money. Even if a student choses a good school, the difference between the value of the voucher and what private schools really cost, the student may not be able to afford it.

Furthermore, even if a family can manage to afford the school’s tuition, that institution of learning is under no obligation to accept them. Private schools are private businesses that are in the game for a profit. Therefore, they are not affiliated with local, regional, state, or national government. So, whatever decisions were made in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education do not apply to private entities.

Voucher programs may have some good selling points on the surface, but those points are not all pie in the sky.

Some of the more detrimental effects of vouchers are well worth noting. Vouchers will take money directly from the pockets of public schools that are already reeling from lack of funding. Gov. Gregg Abbott has at his disposal the Economic Stabilizer Fund—or “Rainy Day Fund”—which currently has in its coffers $13.6 billion. By 2024-2025, that treasure chest is projected to reach $27.1 billion, a total that will most certainly max-out the allowable limit of 10% of certain revenue deposited into the General Revenue Fund, as established by a 1988 constitutional amendment.

 

Whole School Choice advocates extoll the value of opening options to students, hidden barriers minimize these advantages to poor and minority kids.
(TopSphere Media / Unsplash)

Even at the threat of surpassing the 10% limit, Abbott, the drum major for vouchers, chooses to sit on those funds and “starve out” a Texas public school system that is already strapped for operating capital. Vouchers would take what little public funds are available and divert those funds into the pockets of parochial schools, not unlike the move towards the privatization of prisons. The focus then shifts from the best interest of the child to the bottom-line of wealthy investors.

Unlike public schools, vouchers do not mean that an education at a private school is going to be free.

A 2023 report by Institute of Education Sciences (IES) listed the average national cost of private schools from kindergarten to postsecondary at $312,026; or an average cost of $12,350 annually for students K-12. Vouchers will not cover that full amount. In Texas, the average annual tuition for private school grades K-12 is about $10,668.

The Texas public school revenue contributed $9,927 per student 2018-19, which was paid by taxpayers from federal funds and local property taxes.

According to the Texas Education Agency, in 2018-19 the Texas school system was responsible for 5.43 million students. Well over 60% of those 5.4 million students were economically disadvantaged. That total only grows with each immigrant border crossing—whether that immigrant is from Ukraine or Venezuela.

The difference between the cost of a private school education and what Texas is willing (or able) to pay creates an unavoidable and burgeoning gap that the parent is responsible for.
Now shift the focus from cost to what is most important.

The big selling point with voucher programs is presented as being about quality learning environs and increased academic performance.

Caveat emptor: Different does not necessarily mean better. The mettle and worth of voucher programs have been put to the test in other states.

Texas’ neighboring state tried the Louisiana Scholarship Program a.k.a. the School Choice Demonstration Project. The end goal was to demonstrate the merit of voucher systems.
After one year of that demonstration, one researcher determined that program had a “statistically significant negative impact on student(s).” He had the same conclusion for both math and reading.

There was also the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. A branch of Donald Trump’s U.S. Department of Education released a study saying that students “benefitting” from that program “actually made it worse” when came to those students’ math scores.

Albeit the final report card from Washington DC and Louisiana has little to no bearing on what Texas’ governor aims to do with his state’s students.

The elusive pursuit of vouchers is causing Abbott much consternation and the political jousting has him rolling around in circles. Here is the final tally of the most recent Texas House vote that Abbott forced into existence this past November 2023. The distinguished gentlepersons from Texas were voting on whether to remove the voucher provision from a colossal education funding bill.

The distinguished gentlepersons killed the provision dead in a vote of 84-63. There were actually 21 Republicans who were human enough to say politics bedamned and sided with the democrats.

Brian Harrison the State Rep. for Midlothian said, “The rich in Texas have school choice; poor Texans do not,” then added, “this amendment is a slap in the face to the voters who elected us.”

Abbott, though, said the failed measure was “just another step on the path to provide school choice,” because he is not about to quit because, “I am in it to win it.”

Then he shot a slug at the “pro-union Republicans in the Texas House who voted with Democrats,” as though they were turncoats of some greater cause.

The Republican Representative from College Station, John Raney, spoke from the heart. In an interview Raney said, “I believe in my heart that using taxpayer dollars to fund an entitlement program is not conservative, and it’s bad public policy,
“Expanding government-defined choice programs for a few without accountability… undermines our constitutional and moral duty to educate the children of Texas.”

Black students are all too familiar with “for a few without accountability” being connected to their educational journey. The education of Black students has come too far for it to be turned back by political desires and the need to line the pockets of greedy investors.
Just consider a sample size of the scholastic odyssey Black people have been made to suffer. The story of Black students and their pursuit of an education is a struggle that has lived long past the yokes of slavery.

In a time in America when one might be severely punished or killed for teaching Negroes to read and write, Fanny Jackson Coppin (1837-1913) made manifest a passion for the higher education for Black women. Coppin was this nation’s first Black principal, and she is the namesake of Coppin State University.

The list of those who have championed the cause of Blacks extends much further, from Mary McLeod Bethune of Bethune-Cookman to Obie and Sadie Phillips—who between the two of them served their students by being everything from the principal to the bus driver—to today’s woke champions of the equitable education of Black students like Dominique Alexander.

University of Arkansas professor Dr. Patrick Wolf’s summation is that: for vouchers to have any chance of being equitable there must be a criterion for: enrollment, financial practices, student mobility, and the health, safety and welfare of students.

Perhaps more than anything else, Dr. Wolf warns that choice schools must be prohibited from “being selective in their enrollment of voucher students…”

One must keep in mind that the purpose of private schools and schools of choice was so that the children of the rich and the few will not have to sit in a desk next to “those children.”

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