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School vouchers likely dead in the current Texas special session, House education chairman says

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.

The chairman of the Texas House Public Education Committee said Wednesday evening a proposal to create a school voucher-like program in the state is likely dead. For now, at least.

Wednesday night’s development comes after months of fierce infighting between GOP lawmakers — and with less than a week left in the current special session. Lawmakers only have until Tuesday, Nov. 7 to send legislation to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

“The House has rules and we are up against the timeline,” said Rep. Brad Buckley, R-Salado, to reporters minutes after the House concluded its business for the night.

The day started off on a very different tone. Early Wednesday, Abbott told reporters he was working with the Texas House of Representatives on a measure that would create education savings accounts (ESAs) in the state, a plan that would redirect public funds to pay for the private and parochial school tuition of qualifying students.

“We are on track to ensure there will not be another special session,” said Abbott, adding he anticipated the House would file a new bill including ESAs at some point later in the day.

Abbott also expanded the call for the special session on Tuesday, adding teacher salary raises and funding for school safety, two issues important to the House that were not included in the original call.

That same day, the governor announced he had reached an agreement with House Speaker Dade Phelan on vouchers, something the Republican speaker stopped short of saying.

Instead, the House went on a recess Wednesday evening without taking up any school voucher-related measure.

House Speaker Dade Phelan said the chamber will return either Monday or Tuesday, the last day of the special session.

Rep. Buckley told reporters he doesn’t see how school vouchers could be voted out of the House before the deadline.

“It’s too tight for the House to be able to move something in this special,” Buckley said Wednesday night.

Abbott didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

The Texas Senate last month passed their version of school vouchers which would give qualifying students about $8,000. But Buckley told reporters the House will not accept the Senate’s plan.

"No, we'll have a House plan,” Buckley said.

School vouchers have been a priority for Abbott since the Texas Legislature convened in January, but it has been an uphill battle.

Most — if not all — Democrats have vowed to oppose the legislation, and rural Republican lawmakers have said they will also vote against the bill.

Abbott has vowed to call for another special session until school vouchers are passed.

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