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Tax-Credit Vouchers to Be Pushed by Texas Senate

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In a press conference yesterday at a Catholic school in Austin, Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Sen. Dan Patrick, head of the senate education committee, outlined a five-point education reform plan that includes lifting the cap on charter schools, expanding school choice, and implementing a tax-credit voucher program to allow low-income families to use state money to send their children to private schools.

The legislators, who are both Republicans, said their proposal, which they plan to bring before the next legislative session but which has not yet been filed, would allow businesses to deduct up to 25 percent from their franchise taxes if they donate to nonprofits that provide scholarships to low-income families for private school tuition. The exact details on how many scholarships could be awarded and the amount of money each business could contribute to the fund are still being worked out, said Dewhurst and Patrick.

Tax credits are becoming an increasingly popular voucher option, with 14 programs having taken hold in 11 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Backers of such programs tout cost savings to the state—since annual tuition at a private school can be less than the per-pupil cost of public schools—as well as greater flexibility for families, as benefits of the programs.

Opponents of tax-credit scholarships say that their cost savings are exaggerated and that tax credits are a way to get around the legal and political obstacles to traditional voucher programs. Critics also contend that participating private schools, and in some cases, scholarship-granting organizations, are not held to transparent performance standards.

The Texas State Teachers Association vocally opposes tax-credit vouchers. "Instead of trying to enrich private school operators with tax dollars, the legislature should expand public educational opportunities for all Texas children," said TSTA president Rita Haecker in a statement.

At the press conference, Patrick also advocated lifting the cap on the number of charter schools, while vowing to shut the doors of those schools if they aren't working. "If you're an F-rated school after two years, you need to be closed down," he said, proposing to shave four years off the current six years charter schools currently receive to raise school ratings.

Concerns that too many charter schools that struggle academically, financially, or in other ways are allowed to stay open have grown in recent years. State and local policies for cracking down on low-performers, however, vary enormously.

At the press conference, Patrick also talked about making it easier for students to enroll in any school within their district in addition to schools in other districts. He then proposed creating easier pathways for districts to open their own charter schools. Both Dewhurst and Patrick also expressed a desire to expand online learning in the state and bolster career and technical education programs for students.

While there is no transcript of the conference available, you can hear Dewhurst's speech at the press conference in the video below.

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