Although the 88th regular legislative session has concluded, for Gov. Greg Abbott, the battle over school choice legislation is far from over.
“Empowering parents to choose the best educational path for their child remains an essential priority,” Abbott said. “Parents and their children deserve no less.”
The primary school choice measure of the regular legislative session is expected to be refiled during an upcoming special session on school choice. If passed, Senate Bill 8 by State Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), would have given all students in Texas $8,000 in an education savings account to use towards the education model of their choice––mainly private schools. SB 8 would have also granted more rights to parents by requiring transparency of instructional materials, prohibiting teaching on sexual orientation, and requiring consent for psychological tests conducted on students.
The Texas House Committee on Public Education, which refused to pass the original version of SB 8, hinted at passing a watered-down version before the May 29 deadline. Proposed changes to the original bill included limiting the ESAs to only those in failing public school districts. However, this attempt proved frivolous as Governor Abbott threatened to veto any changes that watered down the measure.
“Failure to expand the scope of school choice to something close to the Senate version or the original House version of SB8 will necessitate special sessions,” Abbott said
While school choice legislation is a priority for Abbott, Anita Scott, Director of Public Policy for Texas Home School Coalition, says school choice legislation can only positively affect homeschooled students.
“We all know that this is the year for validating the voice of the parent and the rights of the parent and with more school choice legislation expected to pass later in the year, we can be certain that school districts all across Texas will see and hear more homeschool parents and families at local school board meetings asking and contending for school districts to opt into HB 547,” said Scott, referencing the “Tim Tebow Act” passed in 2021 that allows homeschooled students to participate in University Interscholastic League activities if their school districts “opt-in” to the program.
Scott also noted that the current session was not without legislative victories for homeschool families.
House Bill 3708, which passed the Texas Legislature in May, allots schools in districts who allow non-enrolled students to participate in UIL activities $1,500 per student to compensate for their activities. HB 3708 ensures that home schooled students can participate in UIL competitions despite any potential school choice legislation like SB 8 and is set to be enacted September 1, 2023.
For Abilene Independent School District (AISD), both homeschooled and public school students benefited from the Tim Tebow bill as the AISD school board voted 5-0 in favor of continuing equal access.
“I am proud of the awards I earned and the levels my team reached in our competitions this year,” Homeschooler and Abilene High School athlete Carter Batton said in an AISD workshop meeting.
Batton, despite successfully lettering in three sports, said he is most proud of his newly cultivated community:.
“Most of all, I will remember the laughs and the new family I now have,” said Patton.
Despite seeing success in several districts, in the 2022-2023 academic year only 2.3 percent of school districts across the state of Texas allowed homeschooled students to participate in UIL competitions.
According to Scott, that number is expected to increase to 3.8 percent for the upcoming 2023-2024 academic school year.
“Eventually, THSC would like to pass legislation that would en[sure] all school districts in Texas open up UIL participation to homeschoolers,” said Scott.
With HB 3708 easily passing the House 117-21 and the Senate 19-12, support for homeschoolers participation in UIL competitions is growing. Now, Texas families are demanding school choice.
“It is unclear if Governor Abbott’s Special Session will include revisiting SB 8 or if it will introduce a new piece of legislation for school choice,” said Scott. “What is clear is that the Texas Legislature will pass school choice in Texas this year.”