AUSTIN, Texas — In a last-ditch effort to pass a “school choice” bill this legislative session, Senate Republicans are coupling the contentious voucher-like program with a House bill related to teacher pay.
A Senate committee advanced the updated bill in a party line vote Monday, raising questions over whether it will be enough to win over a coalition of rural Republicans and Democrats resistant to proposals that would use taxpayer funds to help families cover the cost of private school tuition.
Before Monday morning’s Senate Education Committee hearing, witnesses seemed all in for House Bill 100, a school funding bill that would boost teacher salaries and balance school budgets. But after a dramatic update, that was no longer the case.
Senate Republicans changed the bill to include an education savings account program.
“The Senate has priorities for public education and for moms and dads across Texas to have the choices that they need for their individual students, education priorities,” Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, told Spectrum News. “At this late stage of session, it’s important for us to be able to include all of these options in one large school finance bill and HB 100 was ideal for that as a vehicle.”
Republican senators on the committee also touted how the amended bill brings $9 billion to school districts and will increase the amount schools get per student by $50. The House originally proposed a $90 increase.
Creighton said he believes the commitments in the bill would be “lifting up our teachers and our retired teachers like never before,” and that $9 billion alone would be “equivalent to the total state budget of 11 states.”
When asked about the concerns about the basic allotment not being enough, Creighton said it was critical that state lawmakers work with the dollars they have.
“Just as we’re funding the border, just as we’re funding property tax relief and reform, just as we’re strengthening our Texas electric grid, just as we’re putting health care initiatives in place with surplus dollars, we’re also funding education opportunities for moms and dads to make decisions for their kids,” he said.
The education savings account aims to be available to the more than 5 million Texas public school students, with some priority given to those in underperforming campuses.
Some advocates for students living with disabilities were worried.
Steven Aleman, senior policy specialist for Disability Rights Texas, testified before the committee and raised concerns about a lack of oversight when it comes to special education services at private schools and felt any voucher-like program unfairly redirects taxpayer dollars away from public education.
“For every child that leaves, we’re drawing away public dollars from the public school, which means they have less resources to serve the increasingly greater needs of the students who remain. We can see that the students are going to be left behind are the high needs students,” said Aleman. “We’ll try to stay vigilant to make sure that public schools live up to their promise to all students, including students with disabilities.”
To read the full article, Texas Senate committee updates school funding bill to include education savings accounts, visit the Spectrum News website.