Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
Yesterday, Texas lawmakers held hearings about expanding educational choice in the Lone Star State. Perhaps the most prominent proposal was an education savings account (ESA), which would allow families to take a portion of the state funds that would have been spent on their child in their assigned district school and instead use them on private school tuition, tutoring, text books, online courses, homeschool materials, and more. Parents could roll over unused funds from year to year to save for later educational expenses, including college. Because ESAs offer spending flexibility and the ability to save–which creates an incentive to economize–they are an improvement on traditional school vouchers.
However, a Republican member of the State Board of Education, Thomas Ratliff, offered the following objection to the proposed ESAs:
“It is nothing more than a huge handout with no way to control the price tag — hardly a conservative idea,” Ratliff said.
He noted that it takes $8,500 of taxpayer money per student per year just to provide basic support, not counting buildings and equipment. To come from one family, the family either would have to have a $700,000 home or spend $120,000 a year on items subject to sales tax, Ratliff said.
“There are no savings in these accounts,” he said. “There are donations from the elderly couple next door that has no kids and from the local business down the street that pays their property tax.”
Of course, if you follow the logic, this is really an argument against public schooling, period. A low-income family with two kids isn’t paying enough taxes to cover their per-pupil expenditures at their assigned district school. And it’s not like the state is controlling the number of children who are born in Texas or move to the state, so the price tag is just as “unfettered” as the ESA. Is a member of the State Board of Education really arguing that the state of Texas should stop funding district schools?
In fact, taxpayers do save money from the ESAs. ESAs grant parents only a portion of the state funds that would have been spent on their child at his or her assigned district school, and they include none of the federal or local funding. That means the “elderly couple next door” and “local business down the street” are spending much less per pupil on ESA students than they otherwise would have.
I don’t know what Mr. Ratliff thinks is a “conservative idea,” but a program that expands educational opportunity, empowers families, provides market alternatives to a moribund government bureaucracy, improves performance, and saves money while doing so sounds pretty conservative to me.