Sara Stevenson, librarian at O. Henry Middle School in Austin, Texas, is a tenacious, fearless writer of letters and articles about education. She has been the kind of stand-up leader that every community and every school needs. Here is her latest.
The Texas GOP and Pro-Choice in Education
“If a students feels, a family feels they need a better opportunity,
they should have that right,” he said. “And especially, students with
disabilities and autism, to be trapped in a school that can’t help you
get over a disability, is a sin. And we’re going to stand up for that
community.” He received sustained applause.
Dallas Morning News, August 30
When I read the quotation above, I realize that Senator Dan Patrick and I live in different universes. First of all, children with autism and disabilities are well served in public education. In fact, the Special Education laws and lobbies are the most powerful in public education. By law, we must serve every child who enters our school, nomatter what her disabilities. Many students with special needs have one-on-ones. These are trained adults who accompany the special needs child daily from class to class. These employees are expensive, but they are necessary and the right thing to do. I can’t imagine a private school would want to take on the additional cost of hiring a one-on-one for a special needs child when the proposed voucher covers less than $6000 of tuition per year.
Proponents for school choice pitch their arguments as a way for the
poor and disabled to have the same choices the rich have in choosing
the right school for their children, to save students from “failing”
schools. Due to NCLB, students in failing schools already have choice.
When their school fails to make adequate yearly progress, they may
transfer to any passing school in the district. I know because my
school received seventy sudden students a week before school began,
even though we are at full capacity and closed to transfers. This law
strains the passing schools by causing overcrowding and drains
struggling schools of its most involved students and families, making
it that much harder to pass the following year as standards rise.
The resurrection of the voucher issue is extremely troubling. While
the proponents talk about vouchers as “the Civil Rights issue of our
day,” I suspect it’s merely a cover for families, who already send
their children to private and parochial schools, to get a tax break.
Furthermore, the data supporting voucher schools is thin. Recently,
Matthew Chingos and Paul Peterson advocated vouchers in the Wall
Street Journal, pointing to a long-term study (1997-2011) which shows
a higher percentage of students who accepted vouchers enrolled in
college than those who applied but didn’t receive them, particularly
among African-American students. However, when looking at the data
more closely, the study reveals that these African-American students
enrolling in college were more likely to be only children and more
likely to have at least one college-educated parent.
Still, it’s interesting that Chingos and Peterson chose to use the
measure of college enrollment rates. Why didn’t they argue that the
voucher students attending private schools have higher test scores
than their peers left behind? Perhaps it’s because the Milwaukee
voucher system, which has been in place for over twenty years, and the
DC voucher program show no significant difference in test scores
between the two groups.
Texas, the land of Friday Night Lights, the state where 10% of the
nation’s public school students attend school, does not need a private
school voucher system. We need to invest in our current public schools
and lower the student/teacher ratio so that it matches the ratio in
private schools. Calling for private school vouchers at a time of
drastic public education budget cuts is a non-starter.