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ATPE’s Dirty Dozen Reasons to Hate SB 8

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

Texas Legislature TEA | Commissioner | SBOE Privatization | Vouchers Testing | Accountability

Date Posted: 5/12/2023 | Author: Jennifer Mitchell

With only two-and-a-half-weeks left in the 2023 legislative session, some Texas lawmakers want to rush through a new legislative proposal to double the number of standardized tests for students, give the commissioner of education more power, and force taxpayers to foot the bill for private school vouchers that would diminish funding for public schools. Even worse, it’s happening with little to no public input.


On Wednesday, May 10, 2023, the chairman of the House Public Education (HPE) Committee, Rep. Brad Buckley (R–Salado), revealed a plan to hold a sudden meeting on Senate Bill 8 by Senate Education Committee Chairman Brandon Creighton (R–Conroe). ATPE and others in the education community, as well as parents and community members, have overwhelmingly opposed SB 8, which would divert state funding away from our public schools and send it to private schools through an education savings account (ESA) voucher. The private schools benefiting from this scheme would not be held accountable to lawmakers or voters and would not have to comply with the many state and federal laws that exist to ensure students have access to a quality public education. The vouchers would be especially problematic for students with special needs whose families would be forced to relinquish their rights and be hard-pressed to find private schools willing and able to serve special populations of children.

As ATPE Lobbyist Tricia Cave wrote about here, Buckley’s plan was to request permission from the full House for the committee to convene late that night for a quick vote on SB 8. No public hearing. No testimony. Just a vote. Making matters worse, committee members were alerted that the bill on which they would be voting Wednesday night would be a brand-new version of SB 8—a committee substitute that had not been shared with the public. This new Committee Substitute to Senate Bill 8 (CSSB 8) as drafted would not only fund private school vouchers but also implement a complete overhaul of the state’s testing and accountability system.

Some ill-informed supporters of the bill hailed the proposed CSSB 8 as a bill that would eliminate the STAAR test, not realizing that the new 80-page legislation would give the appointed commissioner of education unprecedented authority to create an entirely new standardized testing system that would be more burdensome than the current STAAR. Fortunately, ATPE and other education groups intervened with strong opposition to the plan, and cooler heads prevailed in the House. Rep. Ernest Bailes (R–Shepherd) objected to the motion to allow the HPE Committee to meet Wednesday night. He urged fellow representatives to demand a public hearing on SB 8 before it was put to a vote. In an extremely rare record vote on the motion to grant permission for the committee to meet, a majority of House members voted “no.”  

The HPE Committee has announced new plans to hold a public hearing Monday, May 15, on SB 8, but the committee still will not allow the public to testify unless they are hand-picked ahead of time by the chair. These dramatic efforts to prevent opponents of this bill from voicing their concerns demonstrate how flawed this legislation is. Chilling the substantial opposition to voucher bills like SB 8 will not change the facts: Vouchers are bad for Texas.

Moreover, changes to our state’s complex network of laws and rules governing testing and accountability should not be made in the dark and without proper vetting by education experts, including classroom teachers. Enabling the gubernatorially appointed commissioner—whether it’s Mike Morath or someone else in the future who may have little to no education experience—the power to unilaterally craft a new system of standardized tests and accountability measures would be a disservice to our students, a dangerous delegation of the Legislature’s power to a single non-elected official, and an insult to the Texas educators who should play a major role in redesigning education laws and structures. Is this how some members of the Legislature show their gratitude for teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week, by shutting them out?


ATPE opposes SB 8, whether it’s the voucher bill approved by the Senate last month that would drain funding from our public schools or the House’s no-longer-secret CSSB 8 to hand power over to Commissioner Morath to completely redesign our testing and accountability system while also funding private school vouchers.

Find out what you need to know about this troubling legislation (with a hat tip to our friends at Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessments (TAMSA) and Raise Your Hand Texas (RYHT) for their additional analyses of CSSB 8). Check out ATPE’s “Dirty Dozen Reasons to Hate SB 8” below:

  1. CSSB 8 does not eliminate standardized testing. It actually increases the number of tests by more than double. Along with the increase in tests, the bill similarly changes the law on school accountability ratings, tying those to even more standardized tests than under current law.

  2. CSSB 8 would allow the commissioner of education to design new Texas Success Initiative Assessments (TSIA tests) to replace STAAR no later than the 2027-28 school year. The commissioner is an individual appointed by the governor and is not even required to have a background in education. As commissioner, this single, unelected state official would have unprecedented authority to redesign our entire education system, starting with the implementation of new standardized tests and new accountability measures for public schools.

  3. At the high school level alone, CSSB 8 provides for a net increase of one test compared to current state law for a total of six tests (only three of which are required by federal law). Under the direction of the commissioner, current end-of-course (EOC) exams would be replaced by assessments for 11th grade students based on English language arts and mathematics content they studied in prior years. CSSB 8 would require Texas colleges and universities to use the new high school exams to determine entering students’ placement into freshman courses. Students would also take pre-TSIA tests in the ninth grade. U.S. history and biology tests would remain in place.

  4. In elementary and middle schools, the education commissioner could require even more student testing—three times during the school year under an experimental “Through-Year Assessment” plan. Compared to the current law, only the eighth-grade social studies test would go away. CSSB 8 would still require math testing every year in grades 3 through 8, reading tests every year in grades 3 through 8, and science testing in grades 5 and 8. In other words, students in elementary and middle schools could take up to 42 tests under CSSB 8, compared to 15 tests required by current state law.

  5. Altogether, CSSB 8 would increase the number of standardized tests students take from third grade through high school from 20 to 48!

  6. CSSB 8 would negatively affect school district and campus accountability ratings, unsurprisingly making public schools appear worse while simultaneously funding private schools. As noted above, even more tests would factor into a public school’s accountability grade. The legislation also calls for the commissioner to “establish, modify, and increase” standards to continuously improve student performance. Starting immediately, College Career & Military Readiness (CCMR) cut scores would have to be increased every four years.

  7. Both SB 8 and CSSB 8 call for using state funds to give parents access to education savings account (vouchers) that would pay for their children’s private or home school tuition. The vouchers would give parents at least $7,500 to spend per student, plus thousands more for educationally disadvantaged students and those with special needs. The state comptroller and selected “education assistance” organizations would also take a cut of the appropriations (up to 8%) up front for administrative costs.

  8. CSSB 8 expands the population of students who would be eligible for the state voucher, which will increase the cost of the program. Under SB 8 as approved by the Senate, the voucher program was already estimated to cost over a billion dollars each year in taxpayer funds. The author of CSSB 8 claims the voucher program will cost $800 million per year, but there is no fiscal note for the bill at this time. In other words, lawmakers have not even seen an official Legislative Budget Board estimate of the cost of CSSB 8 despite being pressured to vote for the bill.

    Students who would qualify for a voucher under CSSB 8 include:

    • Low-income students, whether or not they attended a public school previously;
    • SPED-eligible students, whether or not they attended a public school previously;
    • Section 504-eligible students who previously attended a public school;
    • Siblings of voucher students, whether or not they attended a public school previously; and
    • Students who were enrolled at a public school campus that received a “D” or “F” accountability rating. (Keep in mind that the bill’s mandated increases in performance standards and heavier reliance on standardized test scores for accountability purposes could cause more public school campuses to be rated unacceptably in the future, thereby increasing the number of students eligible for a voucher.)
  9. Dubbed a “parental rights bill” by its sponsors, SB 8/CSSB 8 ironically reduces parents’ and students’ rights in exchange for a voucher. The legislation requires private schools and other vendors accepting voucher money to notify parents that state and federal laws, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), do not apply to them. Students who would be entitled to certain rights and benefits in a public school’s special education program would lose rights upon moving to a private school.

  10. Public schools will lose money if vouchers are allowed for private and home schools. Smaller public school districts will lose even more money under CSSB 8 than under SB 8. Unlike the Senate version of SB 8, the House’s CSSB 8 eliminates temporary “hold harmless” funding for small public school districts to offset the inevitable financial losses they will incur as a result of the voucher legislation. The measure was included in the Senate version of the bill in an attempt to convince rural lawmakers to support vouchers, especially in areas of the state where private school options are scarce and vouchers less likely to be utilized. The “hold harmless” provision would give those public schools $10,000 for each student who unenrolls from the school to instead take a voucher in the first five years of the program, after which time there would be no help for public schools that lose vital funding under this bill. The House’s CSSB 8 eliminates the “hold harmless” funding altogether.

  11. Voucher students would still have to take the state standardized tests, but their private schools would not have to administer the tests. That means our public schools would be responsible for administering tests to voucher students they don’t even teach or receive funding to oversee. This would likely create another unfunded mandate for public schools.

  12. Unlike the public schools, private schools accepting taxpayer-funded vouchers won’t receive accountability grades tied to their students’ performance on the tests, they won’t face the risk of closure or a state takeover, and they won’t even be required to ensure their students meet minimal education standards. In fact, there is an entire new section of the law under SB 8/CSSB 8 that would be devoted to protecting the private schools’ “autonomy” and freedom from governmental regulation.

Read more about the problems with vouchers and ATPE’s opposition to vouchers here.


At a time when lawmakers are considering scores of bills to place new restrictions on public schools and educators, SB 8/CSSB 8 offers billions in taxpayer-funded handouts to entirely unregulated private and parochial schools. At the same time, public schools will lose funding. Students will take more tests than before, which will play an even larger role in school accountability ratings. CSSB 8 cedes massive power to the unelected commissioner of education to overhaul the state’s testing and accountability system—something that normally would not happen without years of study and debate.

Rather than seeking input from the education community and the public, a small group of lawmakers are attempting rush through a backroom deal to appease their wealthy campaign donors while shortchanging the state’s 5.4 million students and the hardworking educators who serve them in our public schools. Apart from the new ESA voucher money and a very minor tweak to existing laws on parents’ access to state assessments, there is also nothing in CSSB 8 that would give parents new rights. That’s why parents and educators alike oppose this bill.

ATPE urges lawmakers to say NO to SB 8/CSSB 8.



Tami Cole

The families we have at our school would take the money and go buy drugs. What a joke if a bill!!!


And the state wonders why such a shortage on teachers! They pass this and we will have an even higher shortage because teachers aren’t going to stay in a profession that can’t ensure job security. If the kids aren’t there, there isn’t a reason for teachers. Private schools don’t pay enough and don’t participate in benefits or state retirement programs. This is leaving us all without much reason to go teach at private schools. This bull passing would be a nightmare for today education system, even more messed up than it already is!

Hildebrand Byron

Say no to SB 8

Rachel Behnke

Say no to SB 8!

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