Breaking News
More () »

Texas legislative battle over school voucher expansion begins

The Texas Senate on Wednesday afternoon began debating SB 8, which considers what is commonly referred to as "school choice."

SAN ANTONIO — A Texas Senate committee has begun debating the controversial school voucher expansion bill championed by both Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. 

SB 8 would allow parents to receive $8,000 a year -- that figure is reported by Sen. Brandon Creighton at the time of this article's writing -- per child whom they choose to enroll in private education. School districts of fewer than 20,000 students, meanwhile, would be reimbursed $10,000 per child by the state for two years after their departure. 

"It lifts up all children and at the same time emboldens and empowers parents in their right to choose the arena that they want their child educated in," Sen. Donna Campbell said. "We are giving parents the option to choose the education that is best for their child."

Creighton said smaller districts under 20,000 would actually receive more money with the student leaving to help make adjustments. He did not know exactly what percentage of school districts in Texas are under 20,000 students, however. 

Not all lawmakers are enthusiastic about the legislation. Senator José Menéndez worried that the vouchers would not be enough to cover private school tuition. 

"If the voucher doesn't cover the cost, how does this provide freedom to the parents who can't afford the other cost? If they can't pay for the tuition and can't pay for the books and the uniforms... how does this provide all parents freedom?" Menéndez asked.  

In response, Creighton said parents were asking why their tax dollars can't be used as they wanted to give them a "fighting chance" to satisfy private tuition. 

"I feel like there are private school opportunities that definitely fit within the dollar amount in our ESA. There are also scholarship efforts, private philanthropy, all kinds of different opportunities to fill that gap and I will partner with you to do exactly that any way we can," Creighton responded. 

"The TSA just put out new safety standards and I'm concerned that these safety standards won't apply to all these (private) schools that we are now moving children to. That's a concern,"  Menéndez said. "I think if this bill would pass into law, it would move us backwards in terms of equity for tax-payers across the state." 

Senator Royce West expressed concern that similar programs used in other states were not working well. 

"There are reports the programs aren't working in terms of achievement, " West said. "In Arizona, 80% of persons taking advantage of the program are from the private schools and the wealthiest families in the state. Why is this good policy?"

Creighton responded by saying that, based on the data he'd seen, performance was even or slightly better compared to before the policy was enacted. 

"What we've seen in Arizona, Florida, what Utah is doing... there is a grass fire that is lit right now," he added. "It's driven by parents and families just asking for what they deserve. I've built a file of success for where we see successful programs across the country." 

Follow the progress of S.B. 8 here

Before You Leave, Check This Out