From the Texas Newsroom:
For the first time this year, lawmakers in the Texas House of Representatives will vote on a measure that would create education savings accounts. The voucher-like program would divert public funds into private schools.
Supporters say the program would empower parents, but critics warn it would dismantle the public-education system. Other school voucher proposals have passed the Texas Senate this year but have stalled in the House, in part because of fierce opposition from rural Republican lawmakers and Democrats.
The bill would give $10,500 to qualifying students to cover private and parochial tuition, as well as other education-related costs such as transportation, uniforms and textbooks. Unlike previous proposals, it also includes funding for school safety and an increase to the basic allotment, or the state’s per-pupil funding. Supporters say the additions could satisfy opponents.
Friday’s vote comes as Gov. Greg Abbott has increased his pressure on lawmakers, threatening additional special sessions and to get involved in the primaries of Republicans who oppose vouchers.
Here are three scenarios that could likely play out on Friday.
The House could pass the measure as is
Rural Republicans have historically opposed school vouchers, arguing they could negatively impact their small school districts, which tend to be the largest employers in such communities.
But some lawmakers appear to be reconsidering their previous opposition.
“I got elected by House District 4 and I’m going to make a decision in the best interest of House District 4 and the kids that live in House District 4 at the end of the day, whatever that looks like,” Rep. Keith Bell, R-Forney, said in a committee hearing last week.
Democrats, on the other hand, continue their steadfast opposition. Many have said they won’t vote for a measure that includes a voucher provision.
Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, told reporters last week he’s confident Democrats and Republicans will defeat the bill.
“When it comes to the future of our public schools, when it comes to our children, when it comes to our school employees, we understand together, Republicans and Democrats, urban and rural, men and women, we support public education, full stop,” Martinez Fischer said
The House could kill the measure
Because Democrats oppose the measure, the bill is as likely to pass as it is to fail, especially if the coalition between Democrats and rural Republicans continues.
During last week’s committee hearing, Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian, said a voucher program would not serve his district.
“There’s no chance in hell any voucher helps one student in House District 88,” King said. “Not going to happen.”
King was one of 24 Republicans who supported a budget amendment passed by the House during the regular session that would have prohibited using public funds for school vouchers. That amendment was stripped out by the Texas Senate, and was not included in the final version of the spending plan approved in May.
The House could pass the bill without school vouchers
Lawmakers could amend the measure, moving forward with just the increases to the basic allotment and increased funding for school safety.
Abbott has said he wouldn’t approve such a measure if it reached his desk.
“I would just have to veto it, would have to start all over again,” Abbott told reporters at a press conference Friday. “We’d be spending December here, maybe January here, maybe February here, and I know one thing about both the House and Senate: They want to get out of here.”