• IDRA Newsletter • May 1999

So much of what happens in our neighborhoods revolves around the local public school. It is where we send our children each weekday morning. This is where children gather after school for scouting, sports and other activities. It is where adults go to vote and to be a part of community events, town hall meetings and other forums. Relocating families and business owners consider the neighborhood schools and their perceived quality before choosing a location.

In recent years, a handful of special interest groups have tried to shift the country away from this promise. These groups present various compelling – sometimes contradictory – rationales, but their bottom-line goal is the same: to take public money from public schools and divert it to private schools. With their high-profile personalities and deep pockets, these groups have managed to lead some state policy-makers and concerned individuals to believe there is strong public support for such a radical change. They are mistaken. Voters have repeatedly opposed proposals to support private and religious schools with tax money.


  • Public tax revenues should be used solely for support of public schools.
  • Public policy should support and sustain the concept that investment in neighborhood public schools is investment in communities.
  • All students should have access to community-based, equitably-funded, high-quality public schools.
  • Schools that receive state tax monies should be subject to the same admissions and reporting requirements applicable to public schools.
  • All publicly-funded education should strictly adhere to constitutional requirements related to separation of church and state.
  • All publicly-funded education systems must be accountable to publicly-elected citizens from the community that they serve.

Findings at a Glance

  • State courts have been inconsistent in rulings regarding the constitutionality of using public monies to support private schooling. U.S. Supreme Court rulings have required strict criteria to ensure that public funds do not subsidize religious instruction.
  • Diverting public money for private schools takes money away from communities, resulting in higher taxes for homeowners and businesses in the community.
  • Private schools are not accountable to the public for their actions or results.
    • Most private schools do not support public application, reporting and accountability requirements that are applicable to local public schools.
    • Though often initially limited to nonreligious schools, religiously affiliated schools are eventually included in voucher programs.
    • Voucher programs tend to attract the most academically successful students, students whose families have higher levels of education and those whose parents are most actively involved.
    • There is little evidence that private schools can effectively serve large numbers of special needs pupils (special education, limited-English-proficient, immigrant and migrant pupils), and there is extensive data that most private schools exclude pupils with special needs.
    • Private schools are often staffed by personnel with fewer credentials and experience than those in public schools, and only a percentage are accredited by an external review group.
    • Critical data about voucher recipients and their peers in private schools is neither required or reported. For the CEO Foundation voucher program in San Antonio, limited data was available on demographics of students, and no comparable data was available on student achievement.
    • There is no state accountability system in Texas established for private schools that receive public money.
  • Students already have education options within the public school systems through magnet schools, charter schools, inter-district transfers and intra-district transfers.
  • With a voucher program, it is not the parents who have a choice. The private schools have the choice about which students to accept.
    • On average, religious schools reject 67 percent of all applicants. Elite private schools reject nearly 90 percent of applicants.
    • Out of 13,500 Edgewood ISD students, 600 received vouchers and enrolled in private schools for the 1998-99 school year. The CEO Foundation reports that there were more than 2,202 applications.
    • Edgewood ISD students who were identified as not being in “at-risk” situations were overrepresented as CEO Foundation voucher recipients.
    • The students who received vouchers had outperformed non-voucher recipients on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) while enrolled in Edgewood ISD the previous year.
    • Edgewood limited-English-proficient (LEP) pupils were under-represented among CEO Foundation voucher recipients. Only 16.9 percent of voucher recipients were LEP, compared to a 22 percent LEP enrollment in Edgewood ISD as a whole.
  • Voucher programs do not significantly improve educational achievement of students.
    • Despite claims to the contrary, there is no extensive empirical evidence that vouchers create competition that in turn improves the quality of local public schools.
    • There is emerging evidence that for-profit educational ventures under-serve or exclude students with special needs.
  • Private schools in Texas do not have the capacity or capability to absorb large numbers of poor students.
    • In Texas, voucher proponents conceded that as currently operated Texas private schools could absorb no more than 1 percent (30,000 of the 3.4 million) of students enrolled in public schools
  • Private schools would have to change in order to be eligible to receive state funding.
    • While some private schools are willing to accept voucher funding, most will reject any attempts to impact their student selection policies and practices.
  • The main proponents of vouchers are the same forces that have historically opposed equal funding for all students.
  • Vouchers would give a new government subsidy to private schools and wealthy parents with children already in private schools.
    • While touted as small-scale alternatives to public education, vouchers are ultimately intended to replace public schools with private, for-profit operations.
  • Investing in neighborhood public schools is investing in communities.

For a copy of “Students for Sale – The Use of Public Money for Private Schooling” ($7), contact the IDRA Institute for Policy and Leadership, Dr. Albert Cortez, director, at 210/444-1710 or view the policy brief and related tables on-line at www.idra.org (free).

Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©1999, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 1999 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]