School choice agreement announced by Abbott is no done deal

There were too many empty desks and not enough lawmakers to reconvene the Texas House Tuesday. This "no-show dilemma" by more than 70 Democrats had leaders of the Republican House Caucus crying foul.

"I don't know if you all saw the governor expanded the call today. We cannot accept this call without a quorum in the House. The Democrats last night were told not to be here today by their own caucus leadership. That's unacceptable," said House GOP Caucus Chair Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth).

Tuesday's expanded special session call by Gov. Greg Abbott includes a teacher pay raise, which he was holding as a bargaining chip to get a school choice plan through the legislature. 

Around noon, in a social media post, Abbott announced an agreement was reached on school choice between House Speaker Dade Phelan and Lt Gov. Dan Patrick. 

Abbott stated the proposed legislation "will create an Education Savings Accounts program with universal eligibility for all Texas schoolchildren and will be entirely voluntary for families and schools to participate. Participating students will be eligible for approximately $10,400 per year in their Education Savings Account, administered by an education organization overseen by the Texas Comptroller."

Abbott's school choice agreement includes money not only for teacher pay. There is additional money for school districts, and school safety enhancements. The Governor also proposed phasing out the STARR testing requirement.


House Democrat Caucus Chairman Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) in a statement noted about 20 House Republicans were no shows Tuesday. His statement read as follows:

"I know math is hard, but you don't get to blame House Democrats for a lack of quorums when 20 Republicans were not present on the House floor. That said, what the hell took House Republicans so long to realize what Democrats have known since day-one of the regular and special session: our teachers need a pay raise.

Unlike Republicans, it hasn't taken House Democrats 280 days to realize that raising teacher pay is a priority.

If Republicans—who control all branches of state government—need more than our 140-day regular session to get on the same page, maybe Democrats can help them by amending the constitution to give Republicans some more time to do the people's business. Its very clear this majority doesn’t know how to govern."

The first big test vote on the Abbott School Choice plan may be Wednesday night. That's when the House is scheduled to reconvene. 

Among registered voters there is support for school choice, according to recent polls by the University of Houston and the University of Texas. However, the issue of school choice is not "the" top education priority, according to UT pollster James Henson.

"Most Texans are, you know, would place a higher priority on school safety, teacher pay and retention, curriculum, content and parental rights. All of those are 10% or more and school safety is clearly the highest priority there. Almost a third of Texans say it should be the top priority. And vouchers comes in really on the low end of all that. Only about 7% overall said that vouchers was the most important issue or education savings account," said Henson.

The Texas Senate has already passed separate bills dealing with school choice and teacher pay. The House has HB 1, an all-in-one package with a limited school choice pilot program. 

House GOP leaders were asked by FOX 7 how they plan to address the differences with the bills already filed and Abbott’s proposed deal.