Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has made expanding school choice one of his top priorities for the 2017 legislative session.
Patrick tried to pass a private school voucher program when he was a state senator and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, which would have given state money directly to public school students for private school tuition. This session he is working with Texans for Education Opportunity, a conservative nonprofit advocacy organization, to craft the specifics of Senate Bill 3.
Randan Steinhauser, the group’s executive director, says the group promotes “education savings accounts.”
“If you’re a parent and you decide that the neighborhood school that your child is attending is not working for you and your child,” she says, “you would select to remove them from that neighborhood school and enroll into an education savings account, thereby putting yourself in charge of your child’s education.”
Under this program, state dollars would be deposited into “a government account that is monitored and managed by the parent.” The money could be used to cover approved education-related expenses, like private school tuition, licensed tutors, therapy and online coursework.
The Nevada Legislature passed a similar program last year. Nevada State Sen. Scott Hammond, who authored the “school choice” law, testified before the Texas Senate Education Committee in September about the logistics of the program.
Steinhauser estimates that each student in Texas would be eligible to receive $5,500 through the program. That’s the amount of money the state spends each year per student for public school maintenance and operation, she says. The funds would be made available through state-issued debit cards.
“What we’re advocating is those dollars follow the child into the classroom of their parent’s choice,” she says.
Steinhauser says fund disbursement would be distributed and audited quarterly and that misuse of the funds would result in a criminal penalty against the parent.
“We’re really holding parents accountable when it comes to how these dollars are being spent,” she says.
Texans for Education Opportunity is also confident that the $5,500 credit will be able to cover private school tuition at many schools across the state. Steinhauser says that schools charging higher tuition give out “millions of dollars each year” in scholarships.
Steinhauser and her group aren’t against public schools, she says. She’s a product of the public school system herself and even plans to send her 6-month-old child to Lake Travis ISD.
“[My husband and I] are going to be huge supporters of our local public school and we also know that there’s a lot of families that that traditional school model may not work,” she says.
“This issue is important to me because I’m a first-generation college graduate. I know that education is the ticket to success and when I travel around this state I see communities that are being failed by the public school system.”
Written by Molly Smith.