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Texas House committee advances its own proposal to create a school voucher-like program

 A Texas House Select Education Committee meeting at the Capitol in Austin.
Screen shot
The Texas House Select Education Committee meets in the Capitol. Members forwarded the education savings account measure to the full House a day after senators did the same in their committee.

A Texas House panel on Friday advanced the chamber’s version of legislation creating education savings accounts, or ESAs.

House Bill 1, which was approved in a 10-4 vote, would offer qualifying students $10,500 per year of public funds to put toward private school tuition and other education-related expenses.

Gov. Greg Abbott made ESAs one of his top priorities in the state’s fourth special legislative session of the year, which kicked off Tuesday night.

Friday’s vote was no surprise, as versions of this bill, from Republican Rep. Brad Buckely, passed previously in earlier rounds of legislative overtime. But the House’s latest proposal is far more comprehensive and includes other education items, like a one-time teacher raise, increased per-student public school funding — which the legislature has not changed since 2019 — and more money for pre-K.

The House’s move Friday comes on the heels of quick action from the Senate on Thursday, which passed its version of an ESA bill.

Vouchers still face an uphill battle

While both chambers aren’t wasting any time advancing their respective proposals, there’s still quite a ways to go before any ESA bill lands on Abbott’s desk.

The House and Senate were unable to reach an agreement in special session round three, despite pressure from Abbott and other Republican leaders.

Proposals diverting public money to private schools have historically divided Texas lawmakers. In the past, no Democrats have voted for similar bills, arguing taxpayer money shouldn’t be used for private schools, and rural Republicans have historically opposed ESAs, saying they could hurt the small school districts they represent.

The House’s current school voucher plan is also drastically different from the Senate’s version. HB 1 provides students with $10,500, whereas the plan the Senate passed Thursday gives qualifying students $8,000 per year. Additionally, the House’s voucher provision is part of the bigger omnibus bill that includes money to raise the state’s per-pupil allotment and bolster school security.

Because of these serious differences, lawmakers would have to negotiate again.

The full Senate passed its voucher proposal in the regular session and third special session, but the House has not voted on a school voucher plan this year. Rep. Buckley said he hopes the latest version of HB 1 will finally persuade enough critics to gain approval in the House.

Copyright 2023 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is the former Texas Capitol reporter for The Texas Newsroom.
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