Disability rights advocates speak out against school vouchers

With a fourth special session underway, disability rights advocates are speaking out against school vouchers and Education Savings Accounts.

Parents, educators, and advocates spoke out against HB 1, a "school choice" plan lawmakers are considering. The group argues public school funding shouldn't be tied to a voucher program.

Sarah Hardin's 12-year-old daughter Annie has Down Syndrome, but she's had a good experience in her local school system in Port Neches.

"We're lucky. This isn't the case for so many children with disabilities or growth across our great state of Texas," she said. "I fear that Annie's school will lose funding necessary to provide her with an exceptional education if a voucher program is passed."

"The state has divested public education and in certain communities in particular for far too long," Jolene Sanders, advocacy director for Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, said.

They say proposals could put protection for students with disabilities in private schools at risk.

Tommy Hooker, superintendent of Thrall ISD, says they do provide choice without vouchers, allowing students to transfer to other districts and having homeschooled students participate in extracurriculars. 

"The priorities recommended in House Bill One do not provide a clear way for funding vouchers, and does not provide for accountability to the taxpayers," he said. "There's a loss of protection for services. There's discrimination. There's a lack of accountability. There's increased segregation and there's insufficient funding."


Gov. Greg Abbott says school choice will give parents the opportunity to choose the best educational path for their children, and ESAs let them customize their kids' learning to fit their needs.

"This is a comprehensive piece of legislation, that is I think an outstanding piece of legislation," he said earlier.

"Please consider the rights, the abilities, the potential, and the dreams of all kiddos when making decisions about providing for their futures," Hardin said.