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Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment releases long-awaited report

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

Date Posted: 8/14/2023 | Author: Tricia Cave

The Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment released its much anticipated committee report Aug. 11, following a two-day hearing in July. The report’s recommendations largely rehash legislation that failed to pass during the regular session, with the select committee seemingly proposing a compromise on voucher legislation that would be acceptable to neither ATPE and other public education advocates nor to Gov. Greg Abbott (R). 

“Public educators are opposed to compromising the future of public schools and the students they serve,” ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes said. “In other words, they continue to be opposed to vouchers—in any form. 

“We hear every day from Texas educators who are angry that legislators are not fully focused on supporting our public schools. While the select committee report contains many recommendations worthy of pursuit, until the Legislature is willing to talk about those recommendations without injecting the political distraction of a voucher program, it is difficult to take the ideas seriously. Meanwhile, we have school districts across the state going into deficit budgets to provide small pay increases to their employees in a small attempt to stem the tide of teachers leaving the profession because they are weary of political attacks, the lack of resources, and Herculean expectations. One would never know we began the session with a $32 billion budget surplus.” 

While the public education community, including education organizations such as ATPE, public educators, and public education supporters, remains unequivocally opposed to any legislation containing a voucher, the recommendations released by the committee Aug. 11 are decidedly less clear on the issue. The report was written in such a way as to attempt to straddle both sides of the voucher issue, without taking a clear position one way or the other. Select committee members do seem to agree on two things: that teachers need a pay raise and that schools need increased funding. They do not seem to agree on how to get there or if the issues should be tied to proposed voucher legislation. 

The committee recommendations regarding school choice include expanding current public school choice options, in addition to private school choice. Public school choice typically refers to the option to enroll in a public school other than the neighborhood school to which a student is geographically zoned. Such options are numerous and widely available. The report includes consideration of expanding programs such as Early College High Schools, STEM academies, and career and technical schools to give parents more options. The report also calls for streamlining the inter- and intra-district transfer options currently available to students and their families. Finally, the committee recommendations state that if the Legislature were to implement a private school voucher, such a program should be targeted to high-needs students, have clear eligibility guidelines, and have safeguards to ensure fiscal and academic accountability—proposals that have already been rejected by the governor and other voucher proponents as not going far enough while simultaneously being rejected by ATPE and the rest of the public education community, which oppose any voucher. The committee also separately proposed considering a tax credit-based private school scholarship program, which has been soundly rejected as a voucher in multiple past sessions. The report attempts to make a distinction between diverting tax dollars to private schools prior to their collection as opposed to after collection—again, an argument that has been soundly rejected in multiple past sessions. Additionally, the committee recommended implementing recommendations from the Texas Commission on Virtual Education and the Texas Commission on Special Education Funding.  

These recommendations attempt to straddle the fence on the voucher issue to appease pro-voucher members without giving in to a full-blown voucher, which the House has already shown clearly it will reject. Additionally, “compromise” solutions have already been shown to be unpalatable to the governor, who threatened to veto the House version of SB 8 back in May should such a compromise be reached on a proposed voucher. In the last days of the regular session, Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) went on to kill HB 100, which included school funding that would have given teachers a pay raise, after conference committee members could not agree on whether a voucher added in the 11th hour should be included in the bill.   

A closer look at the committee’s recommendations 

The 15-member committee was formed by Speaker Dade Phelan (R–Beaumont) in mid-June and charged with tackling the following charges: 

  • Ensuring all Texas youths enjoy equal educational opportunity and the freedom to obtain a quality education, regardless of circumstance; 
  • Improving outcomes for Texas public school students and meaningfully supporting educators and educational institutions; and 
  • Modernizing assessment and accountability measures for Texas schools educating K-12 students. 

On July 11-12, the committee heard invited testimony only from witnesses representing a variety of perspectives, including school superintendents, public education advocates, and private school representatives. Additionally, the committee received 2,950 public comments through the House comment portal. Those public comments were overwhelmingly against vouchers.  

Aside from the voucher issue, the committee had many recommendations for improving student outcomes and supporting educators, broken down into several categories and most of which ATPE would support as standalone proposals. The committee recommended: 

  • Supporting students and parents by raising the Basic Allotment. 
  • Exploring ways to increase parental engagement. 
  • Expanding the local grievance process. 
  • Creating tools to promote early literacy and diagnose potential issues. 
  • Providing resources for chronically absent or at-risk students.  
  • Implementing the recommendations of the Teacher Vacancy Task Force, including expanding TIA and teacher residencies. 
  • Eliminating Teacher Retirement System (TRS) retire/rehire fees. 
  • Requiring a portion of any Basic Allotment increase to be used to fund salary increases. 
  • Directing TEA to study the effects of teacher vacancies and class sizes. 
  • Adjusting school finance allotments to focus on programs that improve student outcomes. 
  • Establishing an ADA floor to protect districts against unexpected circumstances. 

The committee’s recommendations on assessment and accountability include: 

  • Studying ways to reduce high-stakes testing. 
  • Creating grants to support the development of Local Accountability Systems. 
  • Establishing a clear system for the adjustment of CCMR cut scores. 
  • Adding chronic absenteeism to the “at-risk” category in order to provide additional supports for students. 

While there is a discussion in the report of moving to a through-year testing model, which was a model championed by several members of the Public Education Committee during the regular session, implementation of such a model is noticeably absent from the committee recommendations. Similarly, though a study is included, an actual recommendation to reduce or eliminate some of the current STAAR tests is also missing.  

All members of the committee signed the report except Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D–Austin). In a letter to the chairman of the committee, published in the report, Hinojosa stated she was not signing the report because she felt the recommendations could result in damage to the public school system.  

A few other committee members also submitted letters included in the report.  Comments of note included: 

  • Vice Chair Barbara Gervin Hawkins (D–San Antonio) stating that a Basic Allotment increase should be between $1,000–$1,800, that there should be accountability for any funds sent to private institutions, and that perhaps a pilot program with a sunset date and a “hold harmless” provision for public schools affected by a voucher would be the best way to go. 
  • Rep. Harold Dutton (D–Houston) stating that he would be opposed to recommendations that include a voucher, the first time he has stated his position clearly on this issue this session; 
  • Rep. Ken King (R–Canadian) asking that any potential legislation be modeled after the engrossed version of HB 100, which did not include a voucher and changed funding from attendance-based to enrollment-based. 
  • Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R–New Boston) highlighting the school choice options already in place in the public school system, the need for accountability for public dollars, and that any legislation should balance both the constitutional obligation to public schools and the rights of parents.  

Abbott and Senate Education Committee Chair Brandon Creighton (R–Conroe) have stated publicly that the bill to come out of the anticipated special session would likely look like HB 100 did at the end of session. Such legislation would likely be a non-starter for the House, which showed in multiple floor votes during the regular session that they still do not have an appetite for a school voucher bill.  



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