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Texas Senate Republicans advance education voucher-like program

Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT

A state Senate committee on Tuesday advanced a proposal to the full chamber that would allocate $500 million to pay for Texas students to go to private schools, among other uses.

Senate Bill 1 is supported by Gov. Greg Abbott and will likely pass in the upper chamber as soon as this week.

Its fate is less certain in the House of Representatives, where rural Republicans have historically sided with Democrats to defeat school vouchers.

Education savings accounts

The bill would allow the state to appropriate $500 million to an education savings account program. Qualifying students would get up to $8,000 to pay for private school tuition, tutors, uniforms, transportation and other education-related costs.

“The goal of this legislation is to empower our Texas families, our moms and dads across this state, and the nearly 6 million students in Texas schools with education freedom,” said Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, the bill’s author.

Students in both public and private schools would qualify for the vouchers. The state would hold up to 40% of the funds for students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. Up to 30% of the funds would be held for lower income families, and up to 20% would be reserved for students with disabilities.

“This program will give students who need a fighting chance the opportunities to find an education that they personally need and would succeed with,” Creighton said.

Party-line vote

The three votes against Senate Bill 1 came from Democrats, who questioned the measure’s intent and its potential impact on students.

Among them was Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, who said the bill doesn’t include a way to track the demographics of the students who apply for the vouchers or those who receive the funds.

“One of the things we don't have is transparency,” West said. “We're taking tax dollars, putting it into this particular apparatus, with no transparency.”

Other critics of the measure said it would take much needed funds away from public schools.

Daphne Hoffacker, a parent of a special-education student, said the dollar amount proposed per student would not cover most of the costs associated with special education.

“This doesn’t help me, doesn’t help my kid,” Hoffacker told the committee. “All it does is take away from the schools if it goes through and if it grows like it has in other states.”

But Creighton, the bill’s sponsor, said public schools won’t be impacted, even though the state would not backfill the economic void left by students who leave for private schools.

“Even when this legislation is passed, our public schools will continue to thrive, continue to improve and continue to have our commitment of working together,” he said.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is the former Texas Capitol reporter for The Texas Newsroom.
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