Setting up a school choice showdown with the Texas House, the Senate Education Committee approved legislation Thursday that would create education savings account and tax credit scholarship programs.
Sen. Larry Taylor’s Senate Bill 3 advanced on a 7-3 vote. Democrat Eddie Lucio broke party ranks to vote for it; Kel Seliger was the lone Republican to vote against it.
Taylor and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick rebuffed efforts by school districts and teacher unions to dilute or restrict SB 3, which would redirect some education funding to parents to use as they see fit and provide a tax credit for businesses that contribute to a scholarship fund to help pay for private school tuition.
With passage in the Senate virtually assured, Patrick and his allies appear ready to use school choice as a bargaining chip in end-of-session negotiations with the House.
House Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty said earlier this month that he opposes the Senate bill. He suggested it might not get a hearing.
The Kingwood Republican has filed a bill that would increase the basic allotment for all public schools and earmark more funding for students with dyslexia.
The Texas Charter Schools Association praised the measure for aiming “to correct systemic failures in a dated finance scheme.”
A “grand bargain” could be in the offing, said Allan Parker, president of the pro-school choice Justice Foundation.
“There are people who want more money for schools, but only if there’s something for parents — and that has to be school choice,” Parker told Watchdog.org. “There’s an unwillingness to spend more unless there’s a consumer mechanism that allows students to seek a better alternative.”
Parker said more than 1,000 low-performing schools across Texas point to the necessity of expanding choices.
“Simply inflating the bureaucracy isn’t going to improve accountability,” he asserted.
Monty Exter, lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, the state’s largest teacher organization, told the Senate committee, “There are plenty of things you could do to help Texas education. Implementing a voucher program is not one of them.”
Parker said rank-and-file teachers should support choice.
“School choice gets them out from under a bureaucracy where principals don’t support them on discipline. Under SB 3, every school becomes a school of choice – for students and teachers,” he said.
Kenric Ward reports for Texas Watchdog. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and @Kenricward.