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Texas school financing, voucher battle shapes up

For 20 year olds Johan Älvebrink and Simon Halvorsen, Sweden's high youth unemployment rate was a contributing factor when picking an independent school financed by a Swedish international company.
For 20 year olds Johan Älvebrink and Simon Halvorsen, Sweden's high youth unemployment rate was a contributing factor when picking an independent school financed by a Swedish international company.
Caroline Calais

Moody's weekly credit newsletter Friday warned investors that Texas could face fiscal crimping if the Texas Supreme Court agrees with a state district court that the state is inadequately funding its schools, saying that dedicating more state funds to schooling could crowd out spending on other functions.

"Fixing the school finance system is a long-term structural issue for the state that won't be solved by one-time use of the Economic Stabilization Fund or other reserves", the newsletter states.

But school finances is not the only hot topic in Texas, the school voucher debate is also heating up. Last week House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, warned GOP senators to repeat the mistake of 2007, when a pilot school voucher bill failed due to resistance from rural republicans afraid the plan would drain money from public schools, and by proponents of the bill that declined to nominate their own school district.

"We have seen this before", Straus said at a forum sponsored by the Texas Tribune, warning Senate GOP leaders "not to go full bore on something that's an exercise in futility".

A pointless endeavor or not, proponents of school choice presented a five-point educational reform package in December. The reform pushed for by Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, leader of the Senate's Education Committee, calls for lifting the cap on charter schools, allowing students to transfer to any public school in any district where room is available, and to create a private school scholarship program paid for through business tax credits.

Teacher organizations and Democrats fear, however, the proposal would provide a big tax loophole for corporations and hurt public education by siphoning tax dollars out of public schools to fund private and religious schools.

But according to the Research Institute of Industrial Economics in Stockholm, Sweden, test results in public schools improved due to competition at the same time as the cost of schooling fell. And the wide scope of reform for financing primary education makes the Swedish experience particularly interesting.

In 1992 a voucher system replaced the earlier centralized financial system, where schools had a national curriculum and was the responsibility of the government. Under the new Swedish system, municipal schools and independent schools receive public funding on close to equal terms, and fulfilling certain basic requirements, all kind of schools are eligible, including religious schools and schools run by profit corporations.

An example is Wilhelm Haglund High School located in a rural municipality in east central Sweden. Started by Swedish international company Sandvik AB, an engineering group in tooling, materials technology, mining and construction, it was the natural choice for 20-year old Johan Älvebrink from the small farming village of Valö, today studying engineering at the University of Gävle.

"With the increasing Swedish youth unemployment rate (22.5 % in 2012) it was important for me to pick a high school that provided its students with a wide variety of career opportunities after graduation", Älvebrink said.

One of them was a customized college engineering education at the University of Gävle.

"There is already a lack of engineers specialized in materials technology and demographic projections told us it would get worse" says Tommy Sandin of Sandvik AB .The company now projects the university's new customized materials technology program will graduate 40 engineers by 2014 -- about as many as the company needs to employ.

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Caroline is also Dallas Environmental Policy Examiner.

 Copyright February 10, 2013, Caroline Calais. All rights are reserved.

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