Decoding the Impact

How will school vouchers impact local students?

The runoff election for Texas House District 1 is approaching. The candidates are addressing a variety of important issues. Texarkana Magazine has chosen to focus specifically on how implementing a proposed education voucher system in the state of Texas will impact local students. Candidates Chris Spencer and Gary VanDeaver share their insights on this crucial issue.

Early voting runs from May 20 through 24. The polls close with final voting on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. Make sure to participate in shaping the future of local schools.


I am a proud product of Texas public schools. Both of our sons are products of Texas public schools. In fact, rural East Texas schools by and large do a fantastic job. The urban schools? Not so much.

Urban public schools have become woke indoctrination laboratories that foster confusion among our children and promote class warfare. History books are being changed in order to harmonize with newly evolving cultural shifts. Parents are being ostracized for involving themselves in open forums at school board meetings.

Tragically, Texas teachers are forced to spend precious time conducting the STAAR test, time that could be better spent in the classroom. As a state legislator, I would push hard to do away with the STAAR test. I would fully support well-deserved pay raises for teachers. I would support efforts to bring discipline back to the classroom.

East Texas parents, in large numbers, believe parents should choose the school best for their child, with their hard-earned tax dollars supporting that decision. Like Governor Abbott, I agree with this. A one-size fits all approach to education doesn’t work. In fact, Austin ISD public schools celebrated pride week during March. Culturally conservative families naturally oppose such celebrations in public school settings. Parents pay taxes and deserve the opportunity to have their tax dollars deployed in educating their children in the school of their choice, whether public, private, charter, or home school.

Some say competition is good. This is true in education as well. Fortunately, our East Texas local schools perform at a high level, and parents will most likely continue to educate their kids at the local public school of their choice. Private school options in rural Texas are few, and thus the impact to public schools in those areas will be minimal. But the choice needs to be available to parents.

Part of the myth being perpetuated in this debate is that illegal immigrants will be given a $10,000 check per child for education when they cross the border. This is patently untrue. No one will receive a check. And I will file legislation opposing any efforts to provide educational savings accounts to non-citizens. Educational savings accounts will provide reimbursement for approved educational expenses, not flat screen TVs or football tickets. No home school parents will receive checks. They will be reimbursed for tuition, books, and fees. The average reimbursement is $1,900 per child. The notion that parents can keep their kids home and get a check from the Texas Comptroller is patently false and totally absurd.

I promise that as your state representative, I will vote in the best interests of the citizens of House District 1. I will pray daily, as I do now, for the wisdom of God, and that He be glorified in what I say, what I do, and how I vote. I would be honored to have your support, vote, and prayers in this runoff election.

photo courtesy of Chris Spencer

Chris Spencer was born in Morris County and spent his early years in both Morris and Cass Counties. He obtained his education from Hughes Springs High School and further pursued his academic endeavors at the University of Texas at Tyler.

In recognition of his expertise, Governor Abbott appointed Chris as the Chairman of the Sulphur River Basin Authority in 2018. This position has allowed him to contribute significantly to the effective management and conservation of the Sulphur River Basin.

Outside of his professional pursuits, Chris finds joy in his personal life. He is happily married to his wife, Debbie, and together they cherish the blessings of parenthood. They are proud parents to two sons, Christopher and Eric, who have brought immense happiness and fulfillment to their lives. Additionally, their family has expanded with the loving addition of a daughter-in-law named Kim and their delightful grandson, Camden.

Faith plays a central role in Chris and Debbie’s lives, and they actively participate in the vibrant community of the First Baptist Church in Mount Pleasant, Texas. Furthermore, Chris dedicates himself to the growth and spiritual enrichment of others as a group leader in his Bible Study Fellowship based in Longview, Texas.


Public school vouchers have recently become a hot topic of debate. Although it may seem like a novel idea to some, Texas first experimented with a voucher system in 1957 as a strategy to sidestep desegregation. This privately funded initiative was a disaster. Presently, the focus is on introducing a universal voucher system across the state. Based on historical precedents, this plan is likely to be just as unsuccessful and cost Texas taxpayers billions of dollars. I’ve shared my objections to this proposed voucher system below.

Vouchers do not provide “school choice” or “parental empowerment”

The truth is, even with vouchers, private schools make the choices and hold all the power, not the parents. Private schools set their own admission standards. This means that even if a parent wants to send their child to a particular private school, there is no guarantee that the child will be accepted. Private schools may not always have the resources or infrastructure to accommodate students with disabilities, and under the proposed bill, they are exempt from the requirements that they provide accommodations. This can lead to situations where students with physical or learning disabilities are denied admission or are unable to access the specialized education they seek from a private school.

Vouchers harm rural schools and communities and are bad for Northeast Texas

The proposed voucher program will have a negative impact on rural schools and communities in Northeast Texas. These programs redirect billions of dollars from public schools to private ones, predominantly in urban and suburban areas. In rural districts, every dollar is vital for maintaining quality education, hiring teachers, and providing essential services to students. Even a small loss of funding can hinder our teachers’ ability to meet the increasing needs of our students. Vouchers might seem like a solution, but for us, they only compound the challenges we face.

As the largest employer in most rural communities and the center of social and cultural activity, the damage to our rural schools will quickly spread to the rural community, resulting in negative economic and social impacts. As the number of public school employees decreases, the Teacher Retirement System would become less financially sound because fewer teachers would pay into it. This would result in no future cost-of-living adjustments for retirees and increased contributions from the state, the school district, and current employees.

Vouchers are too expensive and unsustainable

Under the proposed voucher plan, the additional initial cost to taxpayers will be $500 million per year. However, by year five, the cost of the voucher plan will explode to over $11 billion per year based on current cost estimates. In other states that have implemented vouchers, the ongoing costs consistently exceed the annual projected budgeted amount. Even with the booming Texas economy, we cannot afford this cost and its strain on our budget. The budget surplus other legislators and I have worked diligently to retain will quickly evaporate. Unfortunately, there are only two sources for generating additional revenue to pay for vouchers–reduced funding for public schools or increased property taxes.

Vouchers do not meet the standard of conservative fiscal policy and accountability

Conservatives advocate for responsible use of taxpayer funds and fiscal accountability, rejecting unchecked liberal spending without oversight embodied in the proposed voucher plan. Under the proposed voucher plan, the state will distribute billions of taxpayer dollars to private institutions with little to no accountability to the legislature or taxpayers. The lack of fiscal accountability conservatives demand and expect risks squandering our tax dollars for private gain rather than quality education.

Vouchers do not promote competition among schools

Fairness is crucial for true competition to thrive. However, under the proposed voucher plan, there is a stark contrast in the rules governing public and private schools. Public schools are held to strict accountability standards, including STAAR testing, teacher certification, attendance, and curriculum quality. Conversely, private schools receiving state funds via vouchers aren’t subject to these standards. They can maintain their own private accountability measures, academic progress data, and teacher certification criteria shielded from public scrutiny.

Furthermore, private schools are free to select their students, while public schools must educate all children, regardless of background or ability. Even if private schools admit students with disabilities, the current voucher proposal exempts them from the same state and federal requirements that public schools must adhere to for educating students with disabilities.

Adding to the disparity, the voucher program allocates more funding per student to private schools than public schools. While each private school student would receive a $10,500 voucher, public schools in our area, on average, receive less than $7,000 per student. This inequity further tilts the scale in favor of private schools, placing public schools at a competitive disadvantage.

Vouchers will incentivize more illegal immigration

Even education policies can impact border security and incentivize illegal immigration. The Supreme Court mandates free public education for children of illegal immigrants, necessitating state funding. Texas follows this constitutional requirement as evidenced by the budget passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Abbott. Under the proposed universal voucher program, every child who enters this country illegally will be eligible to receive the annual $10,500 voucher, which is almost 50% more than a public school receives in funding per student. The current voucher program simply increases the cost of educating each child of every illegal immigrant, and that imposes an increased tax burden on every taxpayer.

Vouchers do not provide true school choice. Vouchers harm rural schools and communities. Vouchers represent out-of-control liberal spending and not conservative fiscal accountability. Texas cannot afford the ever-increasing cost of vouchers, and vouchers create an additional incentive that will attract even more illegal immigrants to Texas.

photo courtesy of Gary VanDeaver

Gary VanDeaver is a husband, father, grandfather, educator, cattleman, and legislator.

Raised on a small family cattle operation near Clarksville, Texas, in Red River County, VanDeaver learned the importance of a strong work ethic, developed a love for the land, and solidified his faith in God from an early age. He began his career as a high school vocational agriculture teacher.

Inspired by a deep-seated belief in serving others and investing in our rising generation, he eventually completed a Doctorate of Educational Administration. He became a leading voice for providing the best possible education for Northeast Texas school children.

Rural Texas values continue to drive VanDeaver in his daily service to our families and communities as state representative. He is dedicated to protecting our traditional values, job growth, and economic prosperity, and to improving our schools to give every Texas son and daughter the opportunity to succeed.

A fiscal conservative, VanDeaver knows how to do more with less and stretch a dollar to get a job done more efficiently. As a superintendent, he balanced and oversaw a multimillion-dollar budget and daily operations for his school district. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, he relies on this same conservative approach to fight for a balanced budget and low taxes for Texans. He further believes in the sanctity of life, promoting small businesses, bolstering rural economies, aligning education pathways with workforce needs, lowering taxes, securing our borders, and protecting the most vulnerable of our state.

VanDeaver is a member of the NRA and a strong proponent of gun rights. He currently serves on the Texas Future Farmers of America (FFA) Foundation Board and has served on the Board of Directors of the Texas FFA and the Red River County Farm Bureau. He is a former board member of the Bogata Rodeo Association and Red River County Fair Association and was also president of the New Boston Lions Club and director and past president of the New Boston Chamber of Commerce.

VanDeaver and his wife, Pam, have been married for 40 years. They have two adult daughters who carry on the family tradition of public service as a schoolteacher and criminal prosecutor. They are also blessed with two wonderful granddaughters and one grandson. They are members of First Baptist Church of New Boston, where Gary serves as a deacon and teaches adult Sunday School.


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