School voucher-like legislation now in hands of Texas House

School voucher-like legislation now in hands of Texas House
Published: Oct. 16, 2023 at 6:47 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 16, 2023 at 6:51 PM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - The fate of a bill that would allow taxpayer dollars to be used to send kids to private schools is now in the hands of the Texas House, where the outcome is less certain than in the Texas Senate, which passed the legislation last week. Considering previous votes, politicos say it appears the future of this effort will depend on Republicans representing rural areas.

“We’re trying to create a package that will work for all 150 members of the Texas House versus 31 in the Senate,” said State Rep. Cody Harris (R-Palestine). Harris is referring to the Senate Bill passed last week, which would create an $8,000 education savings account that parents could use to help cover the cost of a private education. using taxpayer money.

“We’ve been using public education dollars for private schools for a very long time in this country,” said State Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler). “The GI Bill and the Pell Grant. Those are all public dollars that go to private schools, if the student chooses.”

Schaefer has long been a proponent of the plan and even appeared with Gov. Greg Abbott at a “parent empowerment event” held earlier this year at Grace Community School in Tyler.

Opponents, including public school leaders in East Texas, have several concerns with the legislation being pushed by Gov. Abbott and other lawmakers.

“In a conservative government, I’m a little bit surprised that our state is willing to allow public funds to go to the community in the form of a voucher where there’s very little accountability and transparency,” said Dr. Christopher Moran, Whitehouse ISD superintendent.

And that’s what lawmakers like Harris will be looking for in House legislation. Harris has proposed the idea of testing individual students who make use of the taxpayer money.

“This isn’t a burden that we’re creating for the private school, but for the child or the parents that choose to take the ESA and use that for private school tuition,” Harris said.

Among the chief concerns for opponents: an effect on funding for public schools. Last week, Gov. Abbott said he would consider adding teacher pay to a special session agenda, but only if lawmakers passed his school choice legislation.

“I don’t think it’s right to hold additional funding for public schools hostage to the school choice debate,” said Schaefer. “If I was governor, I would not take that approach.”

“The simple truth is the votes I don’t think are there to pass an independent school choice bill without being able to take care of my rural schools, for one, and there’s a lot of other state reps just like me who feel the same way,” Harris said.