27 June 2008

Fighting “Vouchers” in Texas

Recently, the Texas State legislature has devised a plan to help high school drop-outs go back to school and work toward a diploma. According to the Dallas Morning News (from May 08), Texas “has allocated about $6 million for dropout recovery grants that will be distributed to school districts, charter schools, universities, education service centers, and private schools operated by nonprofit organizations.” And therein lays the problem.

It’s not a money problem; the $6 million is separate from school funding. The problem is that, along with public school districts, the state has encouraged nonprofit private schools to apply for the funds. That smells like a voucher program to some. Somehow, the public is to believe that there is a slippery slope between this pilot program and public funding of private schools.

One of the more devious collusions envisioned comes from the Texas Freedom Network (a vaguely Orwellian name), which, according to the DMN story, say “the program's ‘loose rules’ would make it easy for parents to withdraw their children from public school and have them classified as dropouts so the state could pay tuition for them to attend private school.” If parents go through that much trouble to enroll their student in private school, doesn’t that put in boldface a problem at the public school?

No matter. Any program that would detour any money whatsoever away from the public school structure is anathema. That this program specifically targets former public school students who, for one reason or another, did not succeed in public schools is beside the point. That the proposed rules have some decent qualifiers for student participation (may not have dropped out of a private school, notarized affidavit requirement) appears to be beside the point as well. This is telling because it gives the lie to the claim by so many in the public school structure that “it’s all about the student”.

It’s not. It’s about money. $6 million is small potatoes in this game, but that number could certainly grow. That the public school structure would protest so loudly should make one ask “why?” Public schools want what amounts to sole rights to “double-dipping” when it comes to drop-out students. Why should anyone believe that they will do a better job putting an alternative-alternative educational program together?

Personally, I do not necessarily favor this drop-out recovery program. I’d rather see one that allows loans to students and parents which would be forgivable on program completion, i.e. high school graduation. Thus, non-completion would require loan repayment. Imagine that, teaching personal accountability to students who arguably need it more than most.


JackN said...

Like your "qualifier" which changes a freebie to a forgivable loan..

Beginning to wonder about Texas..
Have considered it the antithesis to California..

As noted it's not the money..
It is the power and control..

Bob M. said...

Power and control are the keys. One of the interesting things about Texas is how much influence (if I've heard correctly) the school establishment has with regard to other states. Textbooks are huge here (in dollars and gross weight)...and other states are influenced with which way Texas leans. Through President Bush, the nation inherited student accountability through standardized testing.

But perhaps when it comes to wresting power from the hands of those who hold it, Texas is a reflection of most other states, especially those with strong (and mandatory?) teacher unions. Perhaps...