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Educational Choice for Students with Special Needs: The Issue
A majority of states have some form of private school choice. Texas has none.
Every Texas child should be afforded the opportunity to select the educational options that best suit his or her individual needs. Children with special needs are a particularly vulnerable group in need of expanded, individualized options that will allow them a customized education designed to meet their unique needs.
Texas is behind many states in educational opportunity. In 2017, Arizona passed the most comprehensive choice program in the nation that would allow almost every student in the state the freedom to select the best educational program for their own educational needs. Arizona did this through an Education Savings Account (ESA) program, which they refer to as the Empowerment Scholarship Account program. An ESA is innovative because it can be used for a variety of educational expenses throughout a school year, including therapy, tutoring, test fees, textbooks, or tuition. In addition, families can roll over unused ESA dollars from one school year to the next. Funds remaining upon graduation can often be used for higher education. Modeled after Health Savings Accounts, the ESA concept provides an offset to many of the third-party pay problems inherent in education today. Figure 4 illustrates how ESAs might work.
Half the nation’s state legislatures have established educational choice programs.
ESAs have been established by legislatures in Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Florida. Arizona’s program is the leading model currently in operation because of its near-universal availability. Arizona students are eligible for the program if they have been enrolled in public schools for at least 100 days of the prior fiscal year and must be a member of a limited number of populations, among them children with an active IEP or Section 504 plan. Over the next four school years, all Arizona students will become eligible as long as they meet the 100-day requirement. Arizona has had an ESA program since 2011, and parents have taken full advantage of the program’s flexibility. About one-third of ESA funds are expended on multiple items; in other words, a sizable number of parents choose not to use the entire ESA on tuition.
Arizona special needs students were the first to be given access in 2011. In 2015, they comprised 58 percent of the 2,406 Arizona ESA holders. Parent satisfaction with the program is notably high: a survey of over half of participating families in the 2012-2013 school year found that 71 percent were “very satisfied,” 19 percent were “satisfied,” and 10 percent were “somewhat satisfied.” No respondents registered negative or neutral feedback.
A survey of Florida’s current and previous McKay scholarship programs (an educational choice program for children with special needs) found similarly high levels of parent satisfaction. A total of “92.7% of current McKay participants are satisfied or very satisfied with their McKay schools; only 32.7% were similarly satisfied with their public schools.” The researchers also included parents no longer participating in the program to see if dissatisfaction with the program was higher in that group. They found that, “Perhaps the strongest evidence regarding the McKay program’s performance is that over 90% of parents who have left the program believe it should continue to be available to those who wish to use it.”
For the general student population, student performance improves as a result of educational choice. According to the Friedman Foundation, of 18 empirical studies on this topic, 14 found that student achievement improved and two found no measurable impact. The two studies that found a negative impact were both of the program in Louisiana, known for its overbearing regulations on participating private schools. Choice also has been shown to improve public school performance. Of 33 empirical studies surveyed by the Friedman Foundation, 31 found that public schools improve when students are allowed a choice. Only one found no measurable improvement and only one found a negative impact.
We are unaware of studies examining student performance in relation to educational choice strictly within the special needs student population. However, students with special needs would have been eligible for many of the programs studied above.
From Funding Public Schools for the 21st Century, Texas Public Policy Foundation’s 2017-18 Legislator’s Guide, Special Session Edition.
The Texas Constitution establishes public education through Article VII, Section 1, which states:
“A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be
the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an
efficient system of public free schools.”
Since 1989, the Texas Supreme Court has ruled six times on school finance. In the process, the Court has laid out three tests that the system must fulfill in order to be constitutional. These are illustrated in Figure 1, and are explained in detail in Texas School Finance: Basics and Reform.
Critically, the Qualitative Efficiency test had not been addressed by the courts until the most recent ruling in 2016. In 2005, the Texas Supreme Court wrote that it wished to rule upon Qualitative Efficiency, but did not do so because no petitioners at that time appealed to this test, which asks: does the system produce results with little waste? Like the courts, the Legislature must address this test, which requires an appropriate relationship between inputs and outputs.
In the 2014-15 school year, Texas taxpayers spent a total of $60.98 billion on public education according to the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) 2014-15 Financial Actual Report. In the same school year, there were 4,778,559 students attending Texas public schools. As a result, Texans spent $12,761 per student, whereas the average tuition for accredited private schools in Texas was only $7,848. According to the TEA’s 2014-15 Texas Academic Performance Reports (TAPR), the average elementary and secondary school class size is about 20 students. Therefore, Texans spend about $255,00 for the average class. At the same time, the 2014-15 TAPR shows that the average annual salary for teachers was $50,715. Resources are not currently allocated in the most efficient manner to help Texas students.
Public education is funded by an unnecessarily complex and inefficient system that is not student-centered. Texas’ funding formulas have been cobbled together based on political dynamics, not by what works for students. As a result, the system fails the Texas Constitution’s Qualitative Efficiency test. In addition, the system fails the Quantitative Efficiency test on a student basis. We detail solutions to this problem in our Basics and Reform study (49-56).
The Texas Supreme Court, which has dealt with school finance reform for the last 30 years, has repeatedly encouraged the Legislature to make structural reforms to the system. Yet Texas has failed to enact any significant reform that would benefit students or taxpayers. In order to meet Texas’ constitutional obligation to provide “support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools,” we must scrutinize how our current system is failing, and make recommendations for meaningful reform. Analysis should include what the purpose is and the relationship between inputs and outputs in public schools, the relationship between public and state funding, and how we can meet or exceed the three tests to achieve a constitutional public funding system.
From: Teacher Pay & Administrative Flexibility, Texas Public Policy Foundation’s 2017-18 Legislator’s Guide, Special Session Edition.
Nothing is more important to a child’s academic success in the classroom than his teacher. To ensure that students have access to the best educators, administrators must be free to hire, ﬁre, and determine the pay of teachers. The Texas Association of School Administrators agrees:
“Bureaucracies value power and authority, while learning organizations are driven by beliefs and values. Schools must be transformed from their current bureaucratic form.… Educating our youth is not a state responsibility but a local function. Attempts to run the schools from Austin and Washington will result in a further decline in the local sense of ownership and responsibility at the very time when local involvement is most needed.”
When parents, principals, and teachers are given the authority to make the necessary decisions to improve public education, it is the students who will win. Local administrators will have more freedom to encourage and reward their highest performers and teachers will experience increased work satisfaction and productivity. They will both provide the best product to their customer: the student and his parents. Texas spends more than $12,000 per student each year on public education. In Texas, the average elementary school class has 18 students; in high schools, the average class size is 27. Therefore, Texas spends about $216,000 per elementary school class and about $324,000 per high school class. However, the average Texas teacher’s salary in 2014-2015 was $50,715. From 1992-2014, teaching staﬀ in Texas increased by 53 percent, while administrator and “all other staﬀ” increased by an alarming 174 percent. If Texas had simply increased its administrative staﬀ at the same rate as teaching staﬀ, Texas would have saved $7.4 billion annually. Every teacher could receive a $22,100 pay raise annually.
Of course, pay raises should be based on teacher performance, not a pre-determined set salary schedule. At the same time, school leaders must be relieved of some of the most onerous limitations on staﬀ management found in Chapter 21 of the Education Code. Meria Carstarphen, former superintendent of the Austin ISD and former superintendent in a traditionally-run union state, testiﬁed that Texas labor laws (non-union) make it more diﬃcult to manage labor practices than the union states in which she previously worked. She found that Texas’ Chapter 21 labor laws can add up to $80,000 for each teacher dismissal process. These labor laws harm the teaching profession, force misallocation of resources, and prevent employment decisions from being made at the local level.
What is in the best interest of the child? Clearly, great teachers matter to the child. And great teachers should be rewarded and encouraged to mentor their less-experienced peers. Allowing districts—and their locally elected board members—to direct salary schedules and hiring practices helps both teachers and students. No bureaucracy in Austin should have the power to dictate how a locally run school district runs its business. That is not in the best interest of the child.
|175||Tax Burden – We in the Republican Party of Texas believe in the principles of constitutionally limited government based on Federalist principles. To this end we encourage our elected officials at all levels of government to work to reverse the current trend of expanding government and the growing tax and debt burdens this places on we the people. We believe the most equitable system of taxation is one based on consumption and wish to see reforms towards that end at all levels of government Furthermore, we believe that the borrower truly is a slave to the lender, and so long as we continue to increase our tax and debt burdens we will never be a truly free people. Towards these ends, we support the reformation of the current systems of taxation at all levels of government: federal, state, and local. Examples of these reforms include the following:
|176||State Income Tax Ban – We support maintaining the current ban on state income taxes in Texas.|
|177||Real Estate Transaction Tax – We oppose any creation of a real estate transaction tax.|
|178||Bond Elections – State and local bond election ballots should be required to include the amount of debt currently outstanding, current debt service payments, current per capita debt obligations, the amount of new debt being proposed, estimated debt service for the new debt, and estimated per capita burden being proposed. Any bond election (state or local) must pass with at least a 2/3 majority of voters to affirm the bond. The bond issue must obtain a yes vote of a minimum of 20% of registered voters. All elections of personnel responsible for adopting a budget and a property tax rate and all elections involving bond indebtedness shall be held on the November uniform election date and administered by the County Clerk or the County Elections Administrator. Any government entity should not spend taxpayer dollars in promoting further indebtedness or spending of taxpayer dollars via mass media. We oppose bundling of items on bond election ballots.|
From TPPF: “2017 Special Session Legislator’s Guide,” p. 32.
Mail-in ballot fraud is “’the tool of choice’ for those who are engaging in election fraud.”
Once rare and only used when voters knew they were going to be out of town on Election Day, mail-in ballots have become commonplace in Texas and around the nation. The advent of early voting has largely addressed the originating rationale for mail-in ballots. Instead, mail-in ballots are now mostly used for convenience or by people who, due to illness, injury, or disability, ﬁnd traveling to the polls to be arduous. In Texas, mail-in ballots bypass the state’s voter ID law. Mail-in ballots are vulnerable to electoral fraud when voters, especially the aged and the disabled, are encouraged by paid political operatives to apply for a mail-in ballot and then “assisted” in ﬁlling out the ballot and handing it over to the operative for delivery.
Seniors or disabled voters living in their own homes may ﬁnd it diﬃcult to make it to the polls, whether during early voting or on Election Day. Thus, these voters turn to mail-in ballots. Voter ID is not required before voting from home. Ballot harvesters, otherwise known as politiqueras, exploit the proven vulnerabilities of mail-in balloting by approaching seniors to sign up, “helping” them ﬁll in their ballot, and then carrying the ballot to the mail. This mode of fraud appears to be particularly hard to address. The fact is a formal polling facility is the only place where the sanctity of the secret ballot free from coercion can be monitored.
House Bill 658, signed into law in 2017, closes one avenue of mail-in ballot fraud while simultaneously making it easier for voters in nursing homes to participate in elections by allowing residential care facilities with ﬁve or more voters to become early voting centers. Some 3,000 assisted living facilities statewide might beneﬁt. However, assisted living centers include memory care facilities, a class of facility that is growing rapidly, where the residents have compromised mental capabilities. Memory care facilities do not yet appear to be a large source of ballot fraud. Research by the Foundation examined voter registration and voting records of 40 facilities that exclusively provide memory care in Texas and found only 19 registered voters at 11 facilities having cast ﬁve votes of which three were mail-in ballots in the 2016 general election.
To preserve the integrity of the vote, Texas Election Code restricts candidates, bystanders, sound trucks, election-related badges, and other activities from polling places. Further, it is unlawful to inﬂuence voters at the polls. In addition, the Election Code speciﬁes that election judges must be aﬃliated or aligned with diﬀerent political parties. Yet voters, often elderly or disabled, receive no such protections when voting by mail. With the use of mail-in ballots growing, why aren’t these votes given the same protections as votes at the precinct polling place? The practice of employing mail-in ballot harvesters, or politiqueras, needs to be ended. Election law prohibits a polling place staﬀed by paid agents of one candidate or one political party, yet, ballot harvesters are functionally the same in many key respects as election judges.
"During a past Texas school finance trial...Dr. Jacob Vigdor, an expert witness hired by public school districts...", explicitly stated, “'introducing greater competition into the market for teachers will raise teacher salaries...'”
"Dr. Jacob Vigdor contended that Texas should not adopt school choice because districts would then have to pay teachers more. But his argument supports exactly what quality teachers and concerned Texans desire: using school choice to improve the quality and salaries of teachers."
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From Ending Forced Annexation in Texas: Hon. Jess Fields & James Quintero, TPPF, Center for Local Governance (July, 2015)
8 Clinton v. Cedar Rapids and the Missouri River Railroad. 24 Iowa 455. 1868.
9 People v. Hurlbut. 24 Michigan 44, 95. 1871.
12 “Houston Annexation Doubles City’s Size.” Lubbock Evening Journal. Dec. 31, 1948. Print.
14 The Galveston News Editorial page. “Race to the Sea.” The Galveston Daily News. Aug. 20, 1949. Print.
18 Akers, Monte, Barbara Boulware-Wells, and Jason D. King. “Municipal Law 101.” Akers & Boulware-Wells, LLP. The 2009 Riley Fletcher Basic Municipal Law Seminar. Feb. 13, 2009. p. 2.
20 Ibid. § 43.025.
22 Ibid. 29-30.
23 Ibid. 27-28.
26 Ibid. § 43.052(j)
33 New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, 285 U.S. 262 (1932) U. S. Supreme Court, Justia version (case law online).
37 Edwards, Mary and Yu Xiao. “Annexation, Local Government Spending, and the Complicating Role of Density.” Urban Affairs Review. Nov. 2009. Vol. 45, No. 2. p. 152.
38 Ibid. 160.
39 Cho, Yong Hyo. “Fiscal Implications of Annexation: The Case of Metropolitan Central Cities in Texas.” Land Economics. Vol. 45, No. 3. Aug. 1969. 372.
40 Edwards and Xiao. p. 164.
41 Ibid. 164.