Even as the House voted to forbid money for any initiatives that resembled vouchers, the Senate approved a comprehensive education measure that would direct government funds to private schools. The conflict between the Republican-led chambers may pave the way for a debate over Gov. Greg Abbott’s top goal in terms of education policy.
The third-term Republican has toured the state making the case to voters for school choice and is supporting it with all of his political clouts this session. In a mostly partisan vote of 18-13, the Senate approved the bill. Robert Nichols, a senator from Jacksonville, was the lone Republican to disagree. The House will now consider the legislation.
The “Don’t Say Gay” Bill
The main component of the comprehensive plan, which Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick designated as a top priority, would establish $8,000 in education savings accounts for families to use for private school tuition, tutoring, and books or other supplies.
“Parental involvement is the most significant factor for student success, and as lawmakers, it’s our responsibility to ensure that parents are connected and engaged in their children’s education,” he said.
It would also forbid public schools, regardless of grade level, from teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity, which is seen as an expansion of the Florida law that has been mocked by detractors as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
The bill, according to Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, gives parents more financial freedom to make the best decisions for their kids. The most important aspect of student achievement, according to him, is parental involvement. As legislators, it is our duty to make sure that parents are involved and connected to their kids’ education.
Democrats, however, objected, saying that private schools are not required to accept all kids and that the funding would merely amount to a discount for families whose children are already enrolled.
Less than half of the state’s authorized private schools, whose median yearly tuition is $9,831, would be covered by the $8,000 account, according to the Texas Private Schools Association. Sen. Jose Menendez, a Democrat from San Antonio, referred to the scheme as a “coupon” for reduced tuition at private schools.
“The programs aren’t accessible to all children,” he said. “In some cases, they’re not accessible to kids with disabilities or families with fewer resources. My concern is that they encourage a trend of pop-up private schools that can’t be held accountable.”
Democrats made several changes to the law, including requiring harsher testing and providing safeguards for LGBTQ children, but they were all rejected. Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat from San Antonio, successfully proposed an amendment to prevent the children of state legislators from receiving ESA funds.
The most significant adjustment was made to the eligibility criteria. Only students who had previously attended public schools or those who were just starting their studies were to get financial aid, according to the original version of the measure.
Conservative organizations which support a “universal” option protested this. The Senate bill was changed on Thursday to allow low-income families that already send children to private schools to receive a modest portion of the funding.
Sen. Drew Springer, a Republican from Muenster, highlighted the families that made sacrifices, such as driving used cars and sacrificing vacations, to raise money for their children’s private education. Nobody is being overlooked or left behind, according to Springer.
The financial safety net for tiny public school districts has also been increased from two to five years. According to the legislation, districts with less than 20,000 pupils will get $10,000 for each pupil who graduates with an ESA.
Menéndez attempted to distribute the hold harmless funds to all school districts, including the 71 biggest ones that serve more than half of the 5.4 million public school kids in the state but were unsuccessful. The funding is “geared toward those smaller schools that would really feel the loss,” said Sen. Joan Huffman, a Republican from Houston.
Texas Association Of School Boards tweeted that which would give taxpayer money to private schools with no accountability. You can see below:
The Texas House will vote Thursday on an amendment to the state budget that would prohibit funds being used to support vouchers, which would give taxpayer money to private schools with no accountability.
Act now! ➡️ https://t.co/52ICqkm3tt #txed #txlege pic.twitter.com/jf2iZudFW5
— Texas Association of School Boards (@tasbnews) April 3, 2023
The House, meanwhile, gave the school choice movement a setback by passing a budget amendment that forbids the state from sponsoring vouchers or anything similar. Given that initiatives similar to vouchers have previously failed in the GOP-controlled House, the vote is widely regarded as a barometer of the policy’s chances this session.
The provision in the budget that forbids a “scheme through which a child may use state money for non-public primary or secondary education” was adopted by 24 Republicans, most of whom are from rural areas. The Texas State Teachers Union praised the House’s actions but warned that the battle in the GOP-controlled Legislature was far from finished. You can see the Storms To North Texas.
Nonetheless, supporters of the proposal are hoping for more momentum this time. Creighton concealed the financial proposal in a larger bill that emphasized the importance of parental rights and educational freedom, two topics that appeal to conservatives.
“Of course, they’re going to be a no, until they’re a yes,” Creighton responded when questioned on the floor about the House’s denial.
Conservatives are capitalizing on parents’ anxiety over culture wars to argue that there should be an alternative to public schools, which they claim encourage brainwashing. The bill also forbids the teaching of gender identity or sexual orientation in educational settings.
Menéndez asserted that he thinks the legislation as written would prevent students from discussing the Supreme Court ruling that approved the same unions. He added, “That’s a lawful historic decision.
According to a state budget report, the initiative might end up costing $1 billion a year by 2028, taking money away from public education. The analysis makes the assumption that 25,000 students will drop out of public schools in the first year in order to benefit from the program, and that figure will increase to nearly 42,000 students by 2028. Before the hold harmless clause was expanded, it was written.
Religious schools would probably benefit the most from the funds. Abbott only advertises the education savings account program in private Christian schools, some of which demand that parents sign a statement of faith or otherwise demonstrate their Christian faith.
Sen. Borris Miles, a Democrat from Houston, questioned how the measure would provide defenses against perhaps biased admissions standards at private schools. You should read that Northside ISD Names Finalist For Killeen ISD Superintendent.
Private schools are not required to accept every student, in contrast to public ones. Based on a child’s behavior, academic performance, or disability, they may be picky. His proposal does include accountability measures, and parents would ultimately be able to withdraw their children from a failing private school.
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