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Texas House Public Education Committee hearing, May 15, 2023

House Public Education Committee hears testimony on SB 8, leaves bill pending for now

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

Texas Legislature Privatization | Vouchers Testing | Accountability

Date Posted: 5/17/2023 | Author: Tricia Cave

The House Public Education Committee met Monday, May 15, 2023, to hear invited testimony only on the House's Committee Substitute to Senate Bill (CSSB) 8 by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R–Conroe), sponsored in the House by Chairman Brad Buckley (R–Salado). This hearing came after a tense showdown on the House floor the evening of May 10 between Buckley and Rep. Ernest Bailes (R–Shepherd). After Buckley made a motion to allow the Public Education Committee to meet during the floor session, Bailes raised an objection and asked for a full House vote on the motion, which failed 65-76 and kept the meeting from taking place that night.

Following the failure of that motion, the committee scheduled a hearing for Monday solely on SB 8 and announced it would only hear testimony from witnesses invited by the chair. Over the weekend, a new committee substitute was released, and Gov. Greg Abbott (R) threatened to veto the legislation for not going far enough in his view to expand “school choice.”  

This led to Monday’s hearing, in which the committee heard only from an invited panel of advocates on both sides of the voucher issue. Despite the committee’s attempt to limit public input, ATPE provided educators with an increased opportunity to provide theirs. We asked members to share their own written testimony on SB 8 through ATPE’s Advocacy Central and then attached the responses to testimony drafted by ATPE Governmental Relations. This was distributed first to the committee members and then to every House member.

Committee members were split not only on the contents of the bill but also on the way the bill was being seemingly rushed through committee.

The current version of CSSB 8 (slightly modified from what was revealed over the weekend) differs from the Senate version of SB 8 in that eligibility for a voucher is significantly pared down. Under the original Senate version, any student who wanted to leave a public school could receive an $8,000 voucher to attend private school or pay for private services, such as tutoring. Under the current House version, students with disabilities or students who are zoned to a “failing campus” would be eligible for the funds. The voucher amount would be tied to average per-student spending in their school district, with the state average currently being around $9,000. There would be an additional $1,500 allotment for students with disabilities, far less than what these students are entitled to under current law.

In addition, the House's committee substitute would make comprehensive changes to the state’s testing and accountability system. These changes are detailed in ATPE Associate Executive Director Jennifer Mitchell’s Dirty Dozen Reasons to Hate SB 8.

During Monday's hearing, Rep. James Talarico (D–Round Rock) asked a resource witnesses from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) if the committee was making major changes at the last minute, with only two weeks left in session. TEA agreed that the bill would lead to major changes. Talarico also expressed concern that the testing system was being used as a bargaining chip and that the Legislature was creating problems, then legislating fixes to those problems.  

“Why are we creating lifeboats when we are the ones sinking the ship?” Talarico asked. “Can the Legislature be both the arsonist and the firefighter at the same time?” 

The speech of the day came from Vice Chair Alma Allen (D–Houston), who made it clear she did not feel the bill helped the vulnerable populations it purports to help. “This is a sin, what we are doing today,” Allen said.  “You’re not providing anything for poor kids.” 

The committee adjourned Monday without voting on SB 8, leaving many to believe the vote would come Tuesday during the regular public education committee meeting.  Tuesday, however, came and went without a vote on the issue, despite the fact that all the committee members were present. The committee heard testimony on four bills, then voted out a slew of Senate bills, leaving SB 8 pending.   

For the full Tuesday agenda, see here

It is currently unknown when the committee will meet again, when the vote on SB 8 will occur, or if it will even occur. Much of the thanks for the success in holding back voucher legislation so far should be given to the thousands of individual educators who have reached out to their legislators over the past week to express their opposition. The key to continuing to hold it back is your continued engagement. If you have already reached out—THANK YOU! Please encourage your colleagues to do the same. If you have not yet reached out, now is the time. Please take two minutes to use ATPE’s Advocacy Central to let your legislators know you oppose SB 8 and that the Legislature should be working to improve teacher pay, and public education generally, not pass vouchers that will reduce funding to public schools.  

Saturday, May 20, is the last day for House committees to report Senate bills from their committees.


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