Why the Funding Should NOT Follow the Student

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There is a growing argument in Texas for state education dollars to “follow the student.”  Meaning that it costs the state about $7,500.00 to educate a student in Texas and that the state funding should follow the student, to any education setting. This seems logical.  And for “School Choice” advocates, they present this as a fair and reasonable compromise.  Parent choose what they deem to be the best education setting for their child and the state pays for it.  After all, the parent pays taxes and the state pays for education, so really what’s the problem?

Actually there are a lot of them.  I’ll just address the big two.

Let’s tackle choice first.  There is not a “School Choice” problem in Texas.  There has been viable school choice in Texas for as long as I have been an educator.  The state provides for and pays for a level of education services that is delivered through public schools (this now includes charters).  There are parents who desire a level or version of education services different than the standard.  The state recognizes this (rightfully) and allows parents to home school their children and/or enroll their children in private institution more to the parents liking.  Choice is not being infringed upon in any way.

Now the state does not pay for education choices provided outside of the public delivery vehicles (traditional and charter schools) nor does it refund any tax dollars that are not expended due to children being educated in a non-public setting. (Note: actually the taxes for every taxpayer are lowered when fewer students are educated in the public arena).

Now the “School Choice” proponents will argue that this system is somehow unfair.  I will illustrate the fallacy of this argument with another example.  In Texas, a level of law enforcement protection is provided to all citizens.  There are affluent neighborhoods that desire additional law enforcement protection, let’s call these “Protection Choice” neighborhoods.  These “Protection Choice” neighborhoods hire additional security personnel to patrol their communities.  But the state does not pay for this choice.  And at any time the neighborhood can access traditional law enforcement services. In neither the school nor the protection arena, in no way has “choice” been infringed upon.

The second big problem is the issue of taxes.  The “School Choice” proponents will argue that the money following their student isn’t a big deal; it’s only their taxes following their child.  This is a lie.  To explain this I’m going to simplify the numbers.  In Texas, schools are funded through property taxes.  Let’s assume the average household pays $3,700.00 in school taxes.  It costs about $7,500.00 to educate a child in Texas.  The parent who wants the funding to follow their child to a non-public education setting would be paying less than half of the cost.  The rest of the state’s taxpayers would have to cover the balance of $3,800.00 ($7500 – $3700).  If the parent exercised their “choice” for 2 children, the rest of the taxpayers would have to come up with the balance of $11,300.00 ($15,000 – $3,700).

Now the “School Choice” parent might argue, “Since I’m opting out of the public education system then just opt me out of my school taxes.  It’s only fair.”  

But is it?  What about the taxpayer with no children? They too are not using the public education system.  Shouldn’t they be exempt from school taxes?

The issue with “School Choice” is not that choice is not available.  It is.  The issue is a vocal group of parents and special interests that want others to pay for a lifestyle choice that they want to exercise. 

As a fiscal conservative and prudent taxpayer, I have a problem with that.

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