AUSTIN, Texas - The traditional definition of a school choice voucher program is your school property tax dollars will follow your child to the school you want. SB 1 comes with a different definition.
Its sponsor, Conroe Republican Brandon Creighton, offered an explanation to members of the Senate Education Committee.
"So rather than it being a voucher that goes directly to the family, this is a savings account that, once approved, would be able to transfer to an approved provider for an education opportunity for different services related to tutoring or transportation or uniforms," Creighton said.
Education Savings Accounts would be funded with $500 million from the State General Fund, and up to $8,000 per student would be provided. Under the plan, 90% of the money is reserved for students who qualify for a free or reduced lunch, and for students who have a disability or special needs. The remaining 10% would be open to those who attended public, private or were home-school in the last school year.
The application process and the limited number of who can get money raised concerns for San Antonio Democrat Senator Jose Menendez. He asked Senator Creighton, how many seats are available?
"There aren't as many seats in private schools available as there are in public schools, which, again, this framework is within scarcity of dollars, as well. Right? So, $500 million with $8,000 ESAs provides just over 60,000 opportunities," said Creighton.
In public testimony, committee members were urged to use the extra money they have only for public schools.
"And so, our public-school enrollment is growing, our special education population is growing. We need to focus on supporting that system, first and foremost. ESAs are, quite frankly, just a luxury we cannot afford," said Steven Aleman with Disability Rights Texas.
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If approved, Texas would be the 32nd state to have some type of school choice program. During the hearing, Scott Jensen with the American Federation for Children, suggested those in the program should not be limited to only one type of school choice.
"So, they should be able to go to a community college, go to the university, go to a public school, go to a charter school, and use the money out of that account to buy those services. So, I would encourage you to move back toward the sort of language that you had in the original bill during a regular session that allowed parents to buy from multiple providers without having to be a full-time student in a private school," said Jensen.
SB1 moved to the Senate with 10 votes and is expected to clear the Senate later on another partisan vote. A much tougher debate is waiting on the House side.