This legislative session, Texas Republicans have prioritized “educational freedom” in Austin, and they now claim that a bill exists that does just that. SB 8 would give taxpayers $8,000 per student to help families transfer their kids from public to private schools, including religious institutions.
Sen. Brandon Creighton, the bill’s author, claims that a conventional voucher involves giving money directly to a family. However, according to the Republican chair of the Senate Education Committee, his bill takes a different approach.
“For Education Savings Accounts, as it’s indicated in our policy, the comptroller’s office would take applications for the use of these $8,000 education savings accounts, and that would go directly to an approved private school that the family preferred,” Sen. Creighton told us on Inside Texas Politics.
Currently, Texas gives schools a little more than $6,000 per student. However, it is estimated that when local taxpayer contributions are included, the cost per pupil rises to about $10,000. The average of those two sets of numbers is $8,000, so. Sen. Creighton argues that finding a number that wouldn’t later on threaten the budget or lawmakers was more crucial.
“For the $8,000 we just looked at a number that from a scarcity of dollars standpoint that we could comfortably justify in this budget to not create any kind of a fiscal cliff,” said the Republican. “We look at surpluses cautiously because we can’t obligate future legislatures or budgets to money that won’t be there in the future.”
However, some opponents of SB 8 are concerned about how private schools will be held to account, given that public schools are held to a different standard as they are evaluated through standardized testing while private schools are not.
Sen. Creighton claims that the bill gives parents more control over their children’s education and that a list of accredited private schools will be provided.
“That’s the difference between a voucher and an education savings account. These schools will be already approved on a list by the state, and they will have very reputable track records,” explained the Senator.
Due to vehement opposition from rural Republicans who want to defend the public schools in their districts, which are frequently the largest employers, and Democrats who often represent urban school districts, the idea of school choice has stalled in previous legislative sessions. However, SB 8 provides a draw for those rural Republicans.
Each student who transferred from a public school to a private school would be given $10,000 in any district with fewer than 20,000 pupils. Additionally, this two-year carve out for rural communities. Sen. Creighton claims that it will assist communities in “scaling” the effect of any student departure until they can stand on their own two feet.
He also reveals that not many rural students have used the ESA option in some other states that have implemented policies similar to theirs. In either case, he refers to it as a soft landing for medium-sized to smaller districts.
Additionally, SB 8 goes far beyond educational savings accounts (ESAs), requiring “age-appropriate” content and teachers to upload lesson plans to a portal so parents can review them. As the bill moves through the committee process, legislators will determine the definitions of what is and isn’t developmentally and age-appropriate.
However, he added, “At this time, the legislature will be making those decisions in tightening definitions based on the membership’s will and expertise and input.
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SB 9 is a companion bill to SB 8, which would provide teachers with uniform pay increases and possibly a tiny additional raise for those who work in rural schools.
“Even though we talk about starting salaries averaging between $58,000 and $60,000 across the state, so many of our rural teachers are still in the upper 30’s, lower 40’s sometimes. So, we’re going to make sure that they’re lifted up in ways that they have not been before,” the Republican touted.
Skylar Zander tweeted that I’m proud of our team for empowering students, parents, and grandparents to have their voices heard on educational freedom and giving all students options. You can take a look below:
Sen. Creighton informs us that budgeting is ongoing, so precise figures are unavailable. If he has the votes is the critical question. He says there is strong and growing momentum, but he hasn’t yet counted heads. However, the ardent supporter of education is adamant that Texas can accomplish all of this simultaneously.
“Anyone that creates a narrative that you can’t lift up public schools and teachers and also provide educational empowerment for families is just creating a narrative that’s false and divisive,” said Sen. Creighton. “We’re going to be able to accomplish both. And I think the membership will get there.”
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