It seemed pretty straightforward at the time.
Texas lawmakers last year overwhelmingly approved legislation to strengthen dropout-prevention efforts. But a pilot program to help people age 25 and under who have quit school earn a diploma has since come under fire.
The Texas State Teachers Association has described the program, as implemented by the Texas Education Agency, as little more than a “stealth voucher plan” providing money to private groups. And some lawmakers claim it goes against their intentions.
“They couldn’t push vouchers through the legislature in an above-board way,” Rita C. Haeker, the union’s president, said in a press release. “So they went through the back door to divert public dollars to private school programs, even though lawmakers warned them not to do so.”
The union has sued to block the state from sending money to the private organizations. No court date has been set.
The program allows private, nonprofit groups—in addition to other entities like public school districts, charter schools, and universities—to receive funding under the $6 million program.
And in August, three of 22 grants were awarded to private nonprofit organizations: Christian Fellowship and the Healy-Murphy Center Inc., both of San Antonio, and the San Marco-based Community Action Inc.
Barbara Scroggie Naggs, an associate commissioner at the Texas Education Agency, rejects the notion that the dropout-recovery pilot is a voucher program. She said the program doesn’t provide scholarships, but helps providers set up recovery programs.
“Three nonprofit organizations received funding,” she said. “Two of them operate private schools, but the private schools aren’t participating in this program.”
But Rep. Diane Patrick, a Republican from Arlington, said she and some other lawmakers believe the program as implemented disregards legislative intent.
“These are dollars that were intended for public schools,” she said. The money was to flow directly to school districts and public charter schools. “Public school [entities] are the fiscal agents,” she said.
A version of this article appeared in the November 05, 2008 edition of Education Week