School choice revived in Texas Senate Committee hearing

Monday, May 22's hearing was the latest effort to avoid a Special Session and push through education savings accounts, which are essentially modified school vouchers which Gov. Greg Abbott supports.  

"We do plan on voting this bill out of committee this morning," said state Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), who closed out the committee hearing.

The plan involves providing tax dollars to families who want to move their children out of public schools. The legislation allows up to $8,000 per student, each year. 

A small group of supporters testified during the Monday morning hearing which was announced by Senate leaders late Sunday night.

"It also gives parents the right and responsibility to have a more active and engaged role in choosing the location for their child's education, in the environment, their child's education. It also addresses the special needs issues which we think are critically important. So we're pleased to be here today in support of this bill, and we feel very confident that we can be a part of implementation of the ESA elements," said Jennifer Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops.


During the hearing, it was pointed out that school districts, represented by many on the committee, have funding deficits, some even closings schools.

"The cost of everything has gone up. Gosh, you know, I would even implore you to perhaps increase that student allotment or for the schools that have recapture. Can we bring it, there's some language in there for a 4% discount on recapture for early repayment? Can we bring it to closer where Senator Creighton had it, closer to 10%? Is there a way to make this bill more holistic? And I think, you know, when we're looking at the vouchers, it's got to come from one place to pay another. And that's our concern," said Renee Bonham who supports the original HB 100.

The modified school choice plan is a late night addition to HB 100, which originally focused on increasing teacher pay and contained several classroom reforms supported by education advocates.

"But this bill does not look like the bill that many of us have supported, in fact. So of us may not recognize it. The harm caused by the ESA language in this bill far outweighs and will outlast the sections of the bill that actually help public schools," said Christy Rome with the Texas School Coalition.

State Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), who filed HB 100, recently spoke with FOX 7 Austin about the possibility of changes the Senate may try to make on Texas: The Issue Is.

"I really don't expect the Senate to try to wreck House Bill 100 with a voucher amendment," said state Rep. King.

School choice was intentionally left out of HB 100 when King filed it because he believes it can hurt small rural schools.

"I think the argument that is being made for education savings accounts and for vouchers is strictly political because it doesn't stand up to the policy question," said King.

How the re-write was done by state Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) was challenged by state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas). A Point of Order motion is expected to be made in the Senate when HB 100 comes up for a floor debate. 

If it passes in the Senate, the new bill, with school choice, faces a doubtful future in the House.