Vouchers Deep in the Heart of Texas?


As discussed previously here:

I have often posted on school vouchers over the past few months. Why? There are factions inTexasLouisiana and elsewhere that still argue they are efficacious educational policy and are pressing them into law. They are not. See CI’s thread on vouchers here.

This post was written in conjunction with someone who wishes to remain anonymous. oooooo mystery.

So how would vouchers impact rural areas? Despite the growth of private school voucher programs throughout the U.S., only two programs target rural areas specifically, and those programs were created in Vermont in 1869 and in Maine in 1873 (Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, 2002).  Still in existence, rather than providing choice each program allows  students who reside in towns that do not operate elementary or secondary schools to attend private schools. In these instances the hometown pays the tuition to the private school (2002). Geographic coverage for other voucher programs either address students living in metropolitan areas, as in the Milwaukee or Cleveland programs, or cover an entire state, as in Indiana and Ohio. In Indiana for example, a reported 16% of students who access the voucher program are from rural areas and towns (Elliot, 2012).

In Texas a voucher program clearly would not address a complete lack of a local public option, like in Maine and Vermont. That leaves the question of how many Texas rural students could reasonably access private schools. There are 254 Texas counties (77 in metropolitan statistical areas and 167 in rural areas), and of those 254 counties, 129 have private schools within them (U.S. Census Bureau, 2009). Out of those 129 counties, 63 are within a metropolitan statistical area (MSA). According to U.S. Office of Management and Budget 66 are outside an MSA, making it seem like private schools do penetrate rural Texas (2009). If one counts grades Pre-K through 8th as one school and grades 9 through 12 as another, as does the website Private School Review, then of 2,643 Texas private schools, 2,451 are in those counties that also are within an MSA. However, 192 are in those 66 counties outside an MSA. That leaves a mere 7% of private schools in rural Texas counties, a fraction small enough to suggest that rural students would not receive the suggested benefits of any state-wide voucher program. Furthermore, of those 66 rural counties with private schools, 25 only have one option for grades Pre-K through 8th and grades 9 through 12. That leaves a meager 41 rural Texas counties with only a single choice when deciding between private schools. In sum, of the 167 rural counties, 108 have no private schools and 25 only have a single private school to serve the county effectively nullifying any school choice argument in favor of vouchers for rural students.

Use of virtual private schools has grown in some states and therefore it could be argued that they would permit rural school choice. More than any other state, Ohio has implemented virtual private schools.  However, privately operated virtual schools in Ohio face criticism regarding quality, with student to teacher ratios reaching as high as 250-1. School student to teacher ratios are indicative of other structural quality issues such as the lack of rigorous curriculum, organizational oversight, and high student turnover (Saul, 2011).

In sum, the potential benefits of vouchers for rural schools are problematic due to the availability of high quality options and, as discussed previously here, increasing diseconomies of scale. CI’s next post on vouchers will examine the consensus on achievement by students who have utilized vouchers.

See first post here for references.

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