Private schools accepting taxpayer subsidies is not conservative

I get asked why the Idaho and Texas legislatures repeatedly reject legislation to provide taxpayers’ subsidies to private and religious schools when both states are so conservative.

The answer is easy: Legislators in Texas and Idaho see that there is nothing conservative about vouchers. They are the true conservatives while those who advocate for vouchers are CINOs – Conservatives In Name Only.

This is not my opinion. Just see what Texas Rep. Glenn Rogers, a conservative Republican and sixth generation rancher, said in a guest opinion published in his local newspaper, The Community News.

Rogers wrote that since independence Texas leaders have held the core value that every child is entitled to a “safe, secure, and quality education.” It is enshrined in the Texas Constitution.

“Our founders believed that this promise was essential to securing the posterity of our state from generation to generation; however, almost a century and a half later, this value is under attack,” Rogers said. “Under the guise of promoting choice, proposed school voucher programs are a “trojan horse” attempt to privatize Texas’ education system and drain our already underfunded public education of necessary resources for millions of children.”

Rogers noted that private school tuition is high and even with a sizeable voucher most families cannot afford to make up the difference. “The end result is that the majority of Texas families remain in public schools with less funding, whereas more wealthy families who can afford private education outright get a taxpayer-subsidized discount,” he said.

Furthermore, most families that take taxpayer subsidies in other states have never had their kids in public schools and often earn more than $200,000, he said. “These hardly seem like programs that get low to medium income students out of public schools. Rather it reeks of an expensive entitlement program creating clear winners and losers.”

Rogers said with vouchers parents won’t choose the schools their children attend. “Private schools have the discretion to not admit any student based on academic performance, behavioral issues, disability, residence, or income level,” he wrote. “Once again, most Texas parents would have their children in a public school system that is continually stripped of resources to subsidize education for those who already could pay and be accepted.”

As a conservative, Rogers is concerned about private schools accepting taxpayer subsidies with little or no accountability. “Private schools do not have to comply with the same transparency standards as a traditional public education,” he said.

Vouchers would also destroy the independence homeschool and private schools enjoy from government oversight, Rogers argued. “While proponents of vouchers often like to say, “Let the money follow the child,” the follow-up is the “government follows the money.”

When problems arise in public schools, state and local officials can correct them, he said. But they can’t address problems in private schools. “As Texans, it is better that we handle problems out in the open and not masked behind private authority.”

Rogers says vouchers are fiscally irresponsible. He noted that in 2011 Texas faced a budget shortfall and reduced school funding by $5 billion. “It would not be conservative to implement a massive voucher entitlement program expecting continued large budget surpluses.,” he warned.

For Rogers, the bottom line is vouchers can only be funded if property taxes are raised or by “defunding” public schools. “Neither of these should be acceptable to conservative Texans,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, in Idaho, one of the strongest supporters of voucher-like legislation is Sen. Brian Lenney, R-Nampa, who said recently that he and like-minded lawmakers are pushing for conservative budgets, “not head-pats” from Governor Little.

“We’ve got a clear mandate for change, and we remain unwavering in our fight to give Idahoans the fiscally responsible government they deserve,” Lenney was quoted as saying.

The trouble is that, unlike Rep. Rogers in Texas, Lenney and his allies don’t see the irony of their support for voucher-like legislation like tax credits. Instead of giving Idahoans the “fiscally responsible government they deserve,” lawmakers who support the tax credit bill would be taking Idaho down a fiscally irresponsible road.

Idaho’s lawmakers are getting incredible pressure from lobbyists wanting to use taxpayer funds to subsidize private and religious schools, including the out-of-state American Federation for Children. The AFC has sent flyers to households in Nampa to put pressure on a key legislator to vote for its school-privatization tax credit bill.

Rogers is right – voucher-like legislation is not conservative. We can only hope Idaho’s conservative legislators hold onto their good old Idaho conservative principles and ignore the pressure from these out-of-state school-privatization groups just like Rogers and his fellow lawmakers do in Texas.

Rod Gramer

Rod Gramer

Rod Gramer is president and CEO of Idaho Business for Education, a group of Idaho business leaders dedicated to education excellence.

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