/getmedia/8db64441-56f0-4eff-a36c-1be7fb06ea85/Texas-State-Capitol-454075065-1903x776.jpg?width=1903&height=776&ext=.jpg /getmedia/8db64441-56f0-4eff-a36c-1be7fb06ea85/Texas-State-Capitol-454075065-1903x776.jpg?width=1903&height=776&ext=.jpg

House Select Committee holds all-day voucher hearing, leaves bill pending for now

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

Date Posted: 11/09/2023 | Author: Tricia Cave

The Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment met Thursday to consider House Bill (HB) 1 by Chairman Brad Buckley (R–Salado), which includes a voucher in the form of an Education Savings Account (ESA).  The Select Committee was formed by Speaker Dade Phelan (R –Beaumont) in July to study  issues left unaddressed in the 88th session: how to improve outcomes for students, support educators, address assessment and accountability, and consider the pro and cons of vouchers. Their report, released in August, indicated that the committee was not sold on vouchers and did not openly recommend the legislature adopt one, instead recommending that the legislature “continue identifying opportunities to scale and improve public school choice.”  

Since that report was released, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has continued to push vouchers, calling two special sessions now to attempt to get his priority legislation through. He was unsuccessful in the third called session due to continued bipartisan opposition to the proposal from House members.  Instead of putting the voucher through the House Public Education Committee, which heard but did not move any of the voucher legislation during the 88th regular session, the speaker decided to refer education bills this session to the Select committee. This set the stage for the hearing on Thursday, where the voucher issue was the only bill on the agenda.  

HB 1 would provide a voucher of approximately $10,500. Unlike previous iterations of this bill, every school aged Texan would be eligible to apply for the program, and there would be no enrollment cap. The Legislative Budget Board estimates that if approved, the voucher program created by HB 1 will cost more than $2 billion annually by 2028. In actually the cost of funding the eligible current private and homeschool population is roughly 6 billion per budget cycle. Additionally, the bill includes a plan to increase public school funding, as well as provide a one-time stipend of $4,000 for full-time educators.  It would also require a testing component for voucher recipients, although the test would be chosen by the school the student is attending and would not have to be the STAAR test. 

Chairman Buckley, in opening statements to the committee on Thursday, said the bill was written as an attempt to compromise, and it included several concessions meant to sway reluctant House members. He admitted that the bill was large and complex, and more like “40 bills in one,” and he expressed hope that the bill would bring massive change to the public education system.  

“I know why I’m here, and that’s to make certain that every kid in Texas gets an opportunity and that parents remain at the forefront of having the most influence and control of the education of their kids.” Buckley said.  

However, it was clear as the hearing unfolded that many House members, as well as members of the education community, remained opposed to the impact of vouchers. Invited witnesses, including superintendents, special education and disability advocates, and school board trustees, all remained steadfast in their opposition to the voucher. Rep. Ken King (R–Canadian), asked a group of school superintendents bluntly, “Are you willing to tell the governor you can’t buy us off, we’re against vouchers forever, always, no matter how much money you give us to make it look better?”  Emphatically, the three men answered, “Yes, sir.”  Andrea Chevalier of the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education echoed those sentiments, stating that “there’s no dollar amount for us that would justify the long-term damage that we think comes from having an ESA.” 

Rep. King also expressed concern about the impact of the bill on his rural community, expressing that while he thought the bill goes “a heck of a lot further toward funding schools than we did [during the regular session],” he also felt that “there’s no chance in hell any voucher helps one student in House District 88.”  Rep. James Talarico (D–Round Rock) also made clear his opposition to the bill. “I would rather slowly starve than be complicit in the death of public education.” He also expressed concern about the double standard created by having only limited oversight of private schools who take public dollars from an ESA, while public schools are under heavy accountability measures.  

The bill was left pending at the close of the day Thursday. 


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