Texas House, Senate at impasse over education savings accounts
AUSTIN, Texas - The Texas House and Senate are at an impasse when it comes to Governor Greg Abbott's priority of creating a way to give tax dollars to private schools.
The Senate passed a bill that would create education savings accounts, while the House passed a budget amendment that would prohibit using public money for private schools.
SMU political scientist Matthew Wilson says the governor could call a special session until it is passed.
"It ensures that parents have the specific rights. They deserve when it comes to their children," State Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) said on Thursday.
Sen. Creighton is the author of the bill that would set up a system that would provide families with $8,000 per student to attend private school.
"Parental involvement is the most important factor in children's success," he said.
Senate Bill 8 would provide $8,000 for students currently in public school or entering Pre-K or Kindergarten to attend private school through education savings accounts.
The money allocated for the proposal is capped at $500 million right now. That would fund private school for about 62,000 of the Texas' 5.5 million public school students.
"There's a scarcity of dollars," Sen. Creighton said.
Texas Senator Borris Miles (D-Houston) questioned how the state would continue to sustain the program.
"We are going be to cutting money somewhere for the future here, would you agree?" asked Miles.
"No, I think we are very measured starting out," responded Sen. Creighton.
Sen. Miles also questioned what would happen if there was a misuse of the funds.
"Would there be penalties? Then the District Attorney would become involved," he asked.
Texas would be the 31st state to set up a voucher-style system giving public money to private schools.
State Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) questioned the success in other states.
"You do admit most of these programs are failing in the country?" Sen. West probed.
"I admit in Louisiana, DC and Wisconsin that they were isolated. The majority of most of those states and in that city were by in large high performance," responded Sen. Creighton.
"But the fact of the matter is it failed in Louisiana, it failed Indiana," West replied.
"I don't agree," Creighton shot back.
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Some senators questioned if state money should be used to fund schools that can pick and choose their students.
"You said this is about educational freedom, it sounds like educational segregation to me," said State Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio).
The bill passed the Senate 18-13 on Thursday, but in the House rural Republicans joined with Democrats to approve a budget amendment that would prohibit education savings accounts. The measure passed 86 to 52.
SMU political scientist Matthew Wilson says that creates a predicament for Governor Abbott who made the issue one of his top legislative priorities.
"It would be a real loss to the Governor if they end up just abandon this. He has talked about it a lot, he did make it a centerpiece of his agenda. If nothing gets done he will have some egg on his face. I think he will work hard to get it done," said Wilson.
Wilson says the governor would likely resort to a special session to get education savings accounts passed.
Under the bill now, two-thirds of the money would be prioritized for students zoned for low-performing schools. Families zoned for high-performing schools would only be eligible if they meet an income threshold.