Once again repudiating the governor, lieutenant governor, and Republican voters, the Texas House has quadrupled down in rejecting school choice – even for special needs students. The House vote received a stern rebuke by the state’s lieutenant governor.
The Texas Senate had amended the House’s school finance legislation to include an “education savings grant” program for special needs children. The Senate had earlier in the session passed a more robust program, which included all Texas children, despite the leadership team of House Speaker Joe Straus declaring the issue dead-on-arrival.
On Wednesday, the House voted to strip that Senate amendment from the school finance measure.
Gov. Greg Abbott began the legislative session at a Capitol rally calling on lawmakers to pass a comprehensive school choice measure. The Republican Party of Texas has long called for school choice in their platform, and the state party’s executive committee deemed it a 2017 legislative priority.
Following today’s vote, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick criticized House leaders in a strongly worded statement.
I am appalled that the Texas House turned down an additional half-billion dollars for public schools simply because it included a program that might allow some disabled child somewhere in Texas to attend a private school that his parents believe would be better for him or her. The House members who voted against HB 21 ignored the needs of disabled children to take a stand against school choice, which is supported by a strong majority of Texans in every demographic group and both political parties. Instead of supporting those Texans, those House members buckled under the demands of education bureaucrats.
Although Texas House leaders have been obstinate and closed-minded on this issue throughout this session, I was hopeful when we put this package together last week that we had found an opening that would break the logjam. I simply did not believe they would vote against both disabled children and a substantial funding increase for public schools.
I was wrong. House Bill 21 is now dead.
This is the fourth time this session the Texas House Democrats and a minority of Republicans – all of whom are associated with the leadership team of Straus – rejected school choice measures. Earlier in the session the House voted during the budget debate to prohibit the operation of school choice programs.
Liberal Republican State Rep. John Zerwas of Simonton led the floor effort on Wednesday to strip the ESA language. (See who voted to strip out the Senate’s school choice amendment; “Aye” was to eliminate it, “nay” was to keep it in the bill.)
The move was an ironic attack on the integrity of State Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Lewisville). For two legislative sessions he has been adamantly promoting Straus’ team with the claim that by selling out conservatives he’d be able to move legislation.
As the father of a special needs son, Simmons repeatedly told activists he would be able to move school choice – especially a bill to help special needs kids like his son – because he was a Straus insider. He also took the lead in promoting a watered-down version the Senate’s Privacy Act (Senate Bill 6), with the same claim.
Simmons was left to whine on the sidelines as both went down in flames with his own House leadership actively working against them.
NOTE: This was updated to include a statement from Lt. Gov. Patrick