Governor Greg Abbott says he will call a special session if the Texas Legislature does not pass a “meaningful” school choice initiative.
Abbott has voiced his opposition to the version of the legislation proposed in the House, under which fewer students would be eligible and less funding would be available for special education.
“Empowering parents to choose the best educational path for their child remains an essential priority this session,” said Abbott in a statement on May 14. “A majority of Texans from across the state and from all backgrounds support expanding school choice.”
The governor said the House’s latest version of the bill “denies school choice to low-income families that may desperately need expanded education options for their children.” He warned that if this version of the bill was passed, he would veto it.
“Parents and their children deserve the time and effort this will take,” said Abbott. “Failure to expand the scope of school choice to something close to the Senate version or the original House version of the Senate bill will necessitate special sessions. Parents and their children deserve no less.”
In the House’s current version of Senate Bill 8, families would receive $8,000 that can be used to send their children to private schools. However, the House has restricted eligibility to students who live in F-rated school districts. This means approximately 800,000 students would qualify for the voucher. Abbott wanted to open the school choice program to 5 million students.
The House ultimately shut down a vote on its version of the bill on May 10.
The Senate’s version of SB 8 would be given $8,000 in a education savings account to parents who elected not to send their child to public school. The money can be used to cover the cost of private schools, textbooks, or tutoring. The policy was passed by the Senate in April.
One opponent of the school choice expansion is the Texas Classroom Teachers Association.
“Introducing private school vouchers will only exacerbate the problem of a chronically underfunded public school system,” said the organization’s president, Paige Williams.
Some rural lawmakers have expressed concerns about the bill as “many don’t have enough students to support charter schools, and they worry it would pull state dollars from their hometown public schools,” reports CBS Austin. They ultimately opposed the House’s version of SB 8.
The House Public Education Committee heard a substitute version of SB 8 on May 15 but ultimately ended its session without voting on the legislation. The regular legislative session is scheduled to end on May 29.
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