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Texas Senate OKs voucher-like bill pushed by Gov. Abbott that creates education savings accounts

People hold homemade signs opposing school vouchers during a rally outside of the Texas Capitol.
Becky Fogel
People gathered to protest school vouchers during a demonstration at the Texas Capitol.

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The Texas Senate passed a bill Thursday that would create a voucher-like program that would redirect taxpayer dollars to pay for the private school tuition of children.

The measure, which has been championed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, now heads to the Texas House, where its future is unclear. House members, including Republicans representing rural communities, have historically opposed any effort to create school vouchers.

Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, said Thursday Senate Bill 1 would empower parents to make the right educational choice for their children.

“We must recognize that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t always address the varied needs of our diverse student population,” Creighton said.

Under SB 1, $500 million would be set aside for the creation of an education savings account program.

Qualifying students would get $8,000 per year to use for education-related costs, including private school tuition, transportation, uniforms, textbooks and tutors.

Students currently enrolled in public and private school, as well as those enrolling in pre-K or kindergarten for the first time, could qualify for the funds. The money could only be transferred to accredited vendors.

Homeschooled students would qualify for $1,000 to pay for education-related costs.

If there are more applications for education savings accounts than slots, the state would use a lottery system to select the students.

Creighton said his bill would grant more than 60,000 students “a fighting chance for their families to meet the education needs of those kids.”

Democratic opposition

The measure passed the Texas Senate 18-13. It has to clear one more procedural hurdle before it’s sent to the Texas House of Representatives.

Only one Republican senator voted against the measure. Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, has historically opposed school vouchers.

Although he didn’t make a public statement during the vote, Nichols recently told The Texas Newsroom he supports school choice, but not school vouchers.

“Most of my constituents, even with an $8,000 discount, the private school is probably so far away, they're going to have to travel 30 or 40 miles to get to a private school,” Nichols said. “And they still won't be able to afford the balance of what's owed.”

Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, pushed back against Republicans’ comments that the voucher-like proposal was going to help low-income students seeking to get out of failing public schools.

“If education is so bad, Republicans have been in power in this state for 30 years, why haven’t we found the fix in our schools?” Gutierrez, who is running for the U.S. Senate, said Thursday.

The proposal is now headed to the Texas House of Representatives, where it faces an uphill battle.

During the regular session earlier this year, GOP lawmakers representing rural areas joined Democrats in successfully opposing school vouchers.

And many of them continue to hold the line against the proposal.

In a recent interview with The Texas Newsroom, Rep. Stan Lambert, R-Abilene, said he would vote against school vouchers, and called on his Republican colleagues to focus on funding public schools.

“Every dollar that we spent on a voucher is going to be a dollar that is taken away from being able to invest in public education,” Lambert said.

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