Texas House cuts school voucher programs from education bill

The Texas House shut down Gov. Abbott's plan for school vouchers on Friday. It would have opened Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs, using tax dollars to send some students to private schools.

ESAs were part of a larger bill which addressed teacher pay raises and an increase in school funding.    

The vote to remove ESAs from House Bill 1 ended up 84 to 63. Twenty-one House Republicans, mostly all representing rural districts, joined Democrats in voting against the school voucher program.

"I support everything with one exception, the creation of ESAs or vouchers," said Republican John Raney (R-College Station.)

Raney proposed the amendment to cut Education Savings Accounts out of HB 1, which is a larger school funding bill.

It would have created a voucher program to give some students $10,500 to go to private schools.

"I believe in my heart that using taxpayer dollars to fund an entitlement program is not conservative, and it's bad public policy," said Raney.

The debate over the amendment was tense, mostly between House Republicans.


Representative Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) received boos after asking Raney about parents who wanted to use an ESA account to transfer schools because of district rules on gender identity policies.

"So if a school district has boys in the girls' locker room, which they can do, and I disagree with that, then you're telling me those parents are locked into that school district?" said Patterson.

Those for school vouchers argue it gives parents a choice in their child's education.

"Why is that the one thing we're going to remove is the only thing that gives those parents options?" said Representative James Frank (R-Wichita Falls)

The program would also prioritize low-income students and children with disabilities.

"The rich in Texas have school choice, poor Texans do not," said Representative Brian Harrison (R-Midlothian)

But Raney said the state can't afford a voucher program because it costs too much to only help a small percentage of the state's public school students.

"We can't pay for the program," said Raney. "It is going to break the State of Texas when this thing reaches its maximum use. ESAs don't help my district. They don't help the state. ESAs certainly don't help the 5.4 million public school students."

House Bill 1 was sent back to committee without the vouchers on it.

Representatives also voted not to bring conversations about vouchers back for future discussion on the school funding bill.

Gov. Abbott has suggested he would continue to call special sessions until ESAs pass.