TEXAS VIEW: Abbott’s voucher focus is derailing public school funding

THE POINT: Vouchers help some, but what about the 5 million students in public schools?

If ever there were evidence of the folly of insisting on a new spa in the backyard before you fix the leaky roof or cracked foundation, then it is Gov. Greg Abbott’s approach to education legislation in Austin.

Abbott has insisted that lawmakers produce a bill that provides taxpayer dollars to parents to fund their children’s private school education before he will consider a measure to increase funding for the more than 5 million students who are currently enrolled in traditional public schools. The Senate and the House now have competing, and probably irreconcilable, proposals to satisfy his demand.

The governor’s problematic approach could end up killing both his pet cause of education savings accounts and, frighteningly, scuttle the critical work of expanding funding for traditional public schools, leaving education again untouched in this third special session. Worse still, it is likely that Abbott would call another special session on the same subject with conditions that would again place ESAs ahead of improving school funding.

The Senate’s ESA version is too broad in scope and threatens to undermine even high-performing public schools. The House has proposed a bill with money for teacher bonuses, an overhaul of public school accountability and additional funding for public schools to be considered alongside a more limited ESA program.

That would be a smart place to start the negotiations. But it won’t happen.

Abbott has already rejected the House’s approach and warned that he would consider school funding only if he gets a broad ESA bill on his desk. It’s a disconcerting signal to Texas school districts, with some running deficit budgets to make up for dollars they were counting on, but might not get, from Austin.

As things stand, the basic per-student allotment is $6,160.

Increasing that figure would ease the burden on public schools that are strapped for resources to pay teachers and fulfill the many mandates placed on them by the state.

But the governor’s intractable insistence on a single cause, at the expense of addressing school funding, is putting the financial health of many schools at risk. This should not be a “my way or the highway” moment. Too much is at stake. The governor could engage with the House on a limited ESA program while ensuring public school teachers get paid, students have the resources they need and we support all schools in Texas.

Holding the vast majority of students and their schools hostage to an ESA plan that is neither broadly supported nor widely demanded appears to be his plan of action.

That bodes ill for improving education in Texas.

The Dallas Morning News