School vouchers, by another name, are apparently just as sweet to Texas’ Republican leadership and the state’s advocates for school choice.
Monday afternoon at the Texas State Capitol, Dan Patrick joined with parents and state senators to announce Senate Bill 3, the 2017 legislative session’s biggest school choice bill. Rather than handing out school vouchers, long the traditional method for opening up private schools to public funding, SB 3 would establish Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs), which would allow participating parents to receive a portion of the money the state would spend on educating their kids in a savings account that can then be used on educational expenses of the parent’s choice.
The bill, filed by state Senator Larry Taylor, would provide the parents of low-income students with 75 percent of the average state operational costs for their child in their ESA, parents above the poverty line could receive 60 percent of state costs, while the parents of children with disabilities would receive 90 percent. The remainder of the money allocated for the student by the state would go to the district in which their parent refused to enroll them.
"This is not money leaving the system. It is money following the student,” Taylor said. "If Texas wants to remain economically sound ... we need to pass school choice legislation to give all of our students the opportunity to receive a great education that is tailored to their specific needs.”
Dallas state Senator Don Huffines said that he supports the bill because he feels it will create competition for the state’s education cash.
“This is a great day for education in the state of Texas, because now we have a program that focuses on the students and focuses on the parents versus the bureaucracy,” Huffines said. “It is a great day for public ed in Texas because a robust school choice program always improves education. It raises the bar for everyone. Competition raises the quality and decreases the price of everything and it’s going to do the same thing for education.”
Texas Democrats, unified in their opposition to anything that looks or smells like a voucher program, blasted Patrick and Taylor’s plan for taking money away from public schools when they need in the most.
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“Texas children are stuck in overcrowded classrooms, high-stakes testing is run amok, teachers need a raise, we are in desperate need of universal pre-K, and the school finance system is broken,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said. “The duty and charge of the Texas Legislature is to fix these problems, not create more problems by siphoning taxpayer dollars to the unaccountable, ineffective for-profit friends of Republicans.”
Taylor’s bill was no more popular with Dallas ISD board member Miguel Solis when we talked with him about its potential roll-out last week. Parents, Solis said, are being sold a plan that’s based on a faulty premise.
“What they’re trying to do is create a secondary funding system for private schools and charter schools under the guise of this panacea marketing strategy where parents are sold on the idea that anything other than traditional public schools are what is going to allow a child to be successful,” Solis said.
SB 3 represents the third attempt in as many legislative sessions to expand school choice in the state of Texas. So far, a comprehensive plan has never made it all the way to a floor vote in both of the state’s legislative chambers. Patrick, who presides over the state senate, says having votes happen this year is one of his biggest priorities. If school choice legislation reaches Greg Abbott’s desk, the governor has promised to sign it.