AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas House has drawn a line in the sand as the debate over voucher programs continues.
Governor Greg Abbott has held multiple rallies as he looks to expand the state's school voucher plan, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made it one of his top priorities.
The Senate on Thursday passed SB 9, which would establish a voucher program – or education savings account – and provide parents with up to $8,000 each year per student they decide to take out of public education.
The plan would also compensate school districts with less than 20,000 students if a child used a voucher to go elsewhere. Those districts would receive $10,000 for each child who chose to attend another district, though the compensation would last only two years.
And yet, on the exact same Thursday, Democratic State Rep. Abel Herrero proposed an amendment to the state budget that said funds could not be appropriated for a voucher or savings account program.
Or, to put it simply: The amendment said the State of Texas wouldn't pay for a voucher program.
Some Republicans pleaded with their constituents to table the measure until voucher-related bills could be debated over in a House committee, but to no avail. The House passed the amendment with a 86-52 vote.
More than 20 Republicans joined House Democrats in approving the measure.
According to Jon Taylor, chair of UTSA's political science department, it puts Abbott's voucher plan in trouble.
"And it's a fascinating mix of who's opposing it," Taylor added.
Taylor said some Republicans, particularly those from the 134 counties west of I-35, are concerned that the voucher program won't work for them. Some families in rural areas may not have another place to send their child and others may not be able to afford the increased cost of a private school, even with an $8,000 voucher.
And then there are the sports programs to think about.
"One of the more interesting groups of people that have opposed Abbott's voucher plan are high school football coaches in west Texas," Taylor said.
Taylor said the vote opposing vouchers before debate even started shows the Texas House's attitude on the measure is much less welcoming than the Senate's.
"Speaker (Dade) Phelan has been very quiet on vouchers," Taylor said. "Ultimately it's the speaker that determines if the legislation is going to get on the House floor."
Taylor does not expect the fight to be over. The proposed state budget, outlined in HB 1, will eventually move to the Texas Senate. There, legislators will likely strip Herrero's amendment and send it back.
Still, the Texas House has 150 members with 86 Republicans and 64 Democrats. If 86 of those members already oppose vouchers, as the vote on Herrero's amendment would suggest, any voucher program would continue to be at a disadvantage.
Taylor expects the governor will not give up so easily.
"(I expect) a lot of backroom deals, arm twisting, fights—a lot of pressure," he said. "There has been a lot of lobbying in the last two weeks at the capitol."
Abbott's schedule this week includes a Thursday stop in Alamo City, where his office says he'll continue to push for "parent empowerment," a broad initiative that includes his vouchers priority.
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