Below is a submission from a LYS Superintendent:

For the record I don’t have a problem with the idea of vouchers.  My problem is that I can’t think of a way to do them in an equitable manner that will also be efficient.  Giving a flat $5,000 voucher to each child, which is one plan I have seen, certainly seems equitable in so much as it is certainly equal.  But there are at least two problems with this voucher plan. One, $5,000 is nowhere near enough money to educate a child.  Where would the remainder of the money come from? This is not an issue for the affluent of course, but it is for the non-affluent.  The issue of adequacy would have to be addressed, as the amount of money needed to educate a child is probably closer to $10,000.  But just for the sake of a gedankenexperimentieren let’s pretend the funding is adequate, simply removing that variable.  We will also ignore the fact, for the sake of simplicity, that some children (special needs, English language learners) are more expensive to educate.  With the givens, would our current education funding problems be solved?

Of course this thought experiment must immediately include charter schools as it seems the idea of charters and vouchers come as an entangled pair.  Before you get angry, I don’t have a problem with the idea of charter schools as long as the charters play by the same rules as traditional public schools (they don’t, but that’s another gedankenexperimentieren, and we don’t want to over-complicate the one we have already started).  Once we introduce the idea of charter schools, we virtually eliminate the rural school factor.  The reason is most rural schools don’t serve enough students to support a local charter, which most, by design, are operated for profit.  It may be possible to have regional charter schools in rural areas, but the issue of busing across distances again chews into profits.  Also, the rural market would likely be hard to crack because the local public school in a rural community is the heart and soul of that community.  We have to keep in mind that the majority of districts in the state are either rural or semi-rural.  This brings to us a disturbing question: if charter schools are not likely to be successful in rural areas, and rural areas are the home of most of the school districts, who are charter schools designed to serve and benefit?

The answer is charter schools are most likely to thrive in more densely populated areas, such as larger cities.  With a higher population density there are more students to compete for and distance is much less of a factor.  So now our gedankenexperimentieren has taken us to adequate vouchers ($10,000 range), traditional public schools, and charters in densely populated areas.  This already seems inequitable, because if charters are so great, rural areas, will not receive their benefit.  Nevertheless, let’s explore what happens in the scenario of traditional public schools and charter schools operating in densely populated areas, ignoring the nagging rural issue.

Let’s say I operate a traditional public school with 1,000 children.  The local charter comes to town and takes 200 children away.  My traditional public school still has 800 children to educate and it has 20% less revenue.  That may not seem like such a big deal to you but let’s look deeper.  The traditional public school still has the same amount of property to maintain.  The electric bill and other utility bills will not go down significantly.  Perhaps the school can shed some teachers, but not likely in direct proportion to the number of students who left.  For example, let’s say I started with 100 3rd graders with 4 teachers at a ratio of 25:1.  If enrollment declines by 20% I now have 80, 3rd graders.  If I drop my teachers by 25%, which is very close to the 20% decline in enrollment, I now have 3 teachers for 80 children, almost 27:1, which of course is not likely to work.  I will keep the 4 teachers for the 80 children and will have classes at 20:1. By shuffling personnel throughout my school I may be able to let some employees go, but almost certainly not 20%.  The charter school that has 200 students does not have this problem.  The charter school has a building that holds 200 students and a faculty adequate for the 200, and once it is full the charter simply stops enrollment, an option the traditional public school does not have.  

So as children begin to shift from traditional public schools to charters, the traditional public school is almost certain to become less efficient as seen from the example above.  The traditional public school can’t be closed as it is serving the majority of the students in the area and almost certainly is serving the hardest to teach students in the area.  Having lost 20% of its students and revenue, and by not being able to shed 20% of its overhead cost, the variable that we held constant, adequacy, begins to destabilize. The state has two options: one, it can ignore the adequacy issue and say tough luck; or two, it can give more money to the traditional public school in order to absorb the overhead.  If the state takes option 1, a lawsuit is sure to follow.  If the state takes option 2, the funding is no longer equitable and court action is sure to follow.  Regardless of the option the state takes, it has violated the Constitution of the State of Texas by creating a school system that is less efficient.   

And so we see that funding schools by vouchers, even adequate vouchers, is likely to be degenerative.  The introduction of the voucher, entangled with for-profit charter schools introduces unconstitutional inefficiencies into the state school system.  This inefficiency attacks the very adequacy we held constant, destabilizing adequacy. If the destabilized adequacy is not addressed, the state is back in court, the same situation it is in now. If the adequacy is addressed, the issue of equity is raised, and the state is back in court. And for its efforts, the state has violated its Constitution and created a system that is less efficient, a choice that is likely to land the state . . . back in court.  Clearly vouchers will not solve the problem of educating children in Texas, but there is political hay to be made with vouchers and charter schools.  Hmmm…..

Mike Seabolt

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