Governor Greg Abbott officially confirmed this week that he will call a special session next month to pass school choice. During a conference call with Texas pastors hosted by TPPF, the governor displayed his unwavering commitment. “If we do not win in that first special session, we will have another special session and we’ll come back again,” he said.
The school choice reform the legislature will most likely consider will be creating education savings accounts (ESA) that give parents some control over how dollars are used to educate their kids. The media and school choice opponents often conflate ESAs with “vouchers,” even using the terms interchangeably. But they are not the same thing and there are some very important differences. (There are several other variations of school choice programs, as well.)
Our friends at the American Federation for Children make it clear: “Voucher programs allow education dollars to ‘follow the child,’ enabling parents to select private schools and receive state-funded scholarships to pay tuition.”
On the other hand, “education savings account programs create personal accounts that store a child’s state education dollars. With ESAs, parents can use education dollars to pay for school tuition and fees, textbooks, tutoring and special therapies and other approved expenses, so a child’s education is truly customizable.”
Only about half of Texans support vouchers. That makes sense because they are limited by what you can do with the money, where it goes, and who is eligible. But nearly three-quarters of Texans support ESAs because of their tremendous flexibility. Parents can use it for tuition at public schools, private schools, or other accredited institutions. They can buy books and other educational materials and receive specialized tutoring.
Unlike vouchers, that traditionally only go to private schools for the cost of tuition, ESAs allow parents to spend the money on the varying and specific needs of the child.
Opponents of school choice who insist on using “voucher” to describe ESAs either don’t understand the difference or are intentionally using the wrong term because they know so many more Texans support ESAs. (TPPF even has polling that shows a third of school choice opponents support ESAs if you explain to them how ESAs actually work.)
I won’t be rude enough to say that means people using the term “voucher” are either dumb or deceptive, but at the very least they’re being disingenuous. It’s critical that the coming debate begin with the truth about the policy the governor and the legislature will be proposing.
Chief Communications Officer