With Thanksgiving having come and gone, giving a short reprieve to the special sessions in the state legislature, lawmakers are set to return this week.
But with the House having rejected Gov. Greg Abbott’s school choice priority, questions loom about how long the legislature will be in session.
Special sessions can only be called by the governor for up to 30 days at a time. Lawmakers are limited to debate on the issues placed on the call. While it’s not uncommon to have one or two special sessions (in addition to the regular 140-day session every two years), the Texas Legislature is currently in their fourth.
This time, Abbott tasked lawmakers with border security and education issues.
While they made quick work of border security measures, the two chambers and the governor remain at an impasse regarding education.
Abbott’s call specifically mentions increased funding for government schools as well as a school choice program. While both chambers appear to agree in the abstract on increased teacher pay and school safety funding, it is school choice that has remained the sticking point.
The plan pushed by Abbott and passed by the Senate would create Education Savings Accounts, by which students enrolled in the program would receive money that they could use to pay for tuition at a private school.
But while the Senate has passed that legislation numerous times, the House voted to strip the school choice provision out of their omnibus school spending bill earlier this month.
After that vote, Abbott said he would would “continue advancing school choice in the Texas Legislature and at the ballot box, and will maintain the fight for parent empowerment until all parents can choose the best education path for their child.”
Whether that means calling lawmakers back for a fifth special session, however, is up in the air.
At different times, Abbott has given different answers on the possibility of additional special sessions. Ahead of the third special session, Abbott indicated he would call lawmakers back for two additional sessions.
“If we do not win in that first special session, we will have another special special session and we’ll come back again,” Abbott said at an event in September. “And then if we don’t win that time, I think it’s time to send this to the voters themselves.”
Just a few weeks ago, Abbott changed his tune and said he would call lawmakers back if school choice did not pass.
“We’d be spending December here, maybe January here, maybe February here,” said Abbott. “And I know one thing about both the House and Senate—They want to get out of here.”
His latest statement about fighting for school choice “in the Texas Legislature and the ballot box” appears to straddle the fence between his two previous statements. Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment on whether he would call another special session. He has, however, begun endorsing Republican incumbents who have supported school choice.
The current special session expires on December 6.
If Abbott does call a fifth special session, it will be only the second time a governor has called five special sessions. The current record is six, called by Gov. Bill Clements in 1990.