Like several other conservative priority measures, school choice legislation appears to have stalled in the Texas House.
Senate Bill 8 by State Sen. Brandon Creighton (R–Conroe), which would provide families with $8,000 per student enrolled in a new education savings account program, passed the Senate on April 6 and was referred to the House Public Education Committee on April 17. It has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.
When the state budget was debated in the House on April 6, 86 members—including 23 Republicans—voted for an amendment that would prohibit state funds from being used for private school vouchers, tax credit scholarships, or ESAs. While some have dismissed the vote as nothing more than a symbolic show of support for public school teachers, the stagnation of school choice legislation and the lack of funding for new programs in the state budget indicates resistance among House members to expand education options for families.
Critics of state-funded school choice programs argue they take money away from traditional public schools and don’t provide the same level of accountability. Senate Bill 8, however, requires the educational assistance of organizations that would administer the program to conduct routine random audits of accounts. It would also provide school districts with fewer than 20,000 students enrolled with $10,000 for every student that withdraws, a provision intended to placate the concerns that any new school choice program would have an outsized impact on rural school districts.
School choice is a legislative priority for the Republican Party of Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, while Speaker Dade Phelan has been relatively silent on the issue.
House Bill 4340 by State Rep. James Frank (R–Wichita Falls), House Bill 4807 by State Rep. Brian Harrison (R–Midlothian), and House Bill 619 by State Rep. Matt Shaheen (R–Plano) were left pending after a House Public Education Committee hearing last month.
Senate Bill 1474 by State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston) and House Bill 3781 by State Rep. Jacey Jetton (R–Richmond), both of which would expand a limited ESA program for students with special needs, are also awaiting action in Buckley’s committee.
Buckley did not respond to Texas Scorecard’s request for comment on the status of Senate Bill 8 and other school choice bills.
While the current legislative session ends on May 29, May 8 is the last day for bills filed in the House to pass out of committee and have a realistic chance at becoming law. The House Public Education Committee holds its next meeting on May 9, and none of the aforementioned House bills are on the agenda, meaning they are likely dead.
House committees have until May 20 to approve Senate bills with enough time for them to pass the lower chamber before the end of the session.