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Texas House rejects voucher bill, sending clear message to governor

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

School Finance Texas Legislature Privatization | Vouchers School Safety

Date Posted: 11/18/2023 | Author: Tricia Cave

By voting to strip House Bill (HB) 1 by Chairman Brad Buckley (R–Salado) of its voucher entirely, the Texas House sent a clear, definitive message to Gov. Greg Abbott (R) Friday afternoon regarding his pet voucher initiative. This win by public school supporters left Buckley few options but to recommit the bill back to the Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment, where it will languish and die at the end of this fourth special session.

Rep. John Raney (R–Bryan) authored the amendment to strip the voucher with 17 fellow Republicans signing on:

Note: In addition to all Democrats present, fellow Republicans Keith Bell (R–Forney), Jay Dean (R–Longview) and Ken King (R–Canadian) voted with their colleagues above in favor of the Raney amendment.

In laying out his amendment, Raney thanked Buckley for his work on HB 1 and said, “I support everything with one exception—the creation of ESAs or vouchers.” Raney pointed out: “It is the repeated goal of the state’s leadership to provide what they call choice, whether through vouchers or ESAs, to all parents. Therefore, the limitations in HB 1 don’t really matter.” He added that the bill was not fiscally conservative and that voucher costs would balloon over time. Raney emphasized that the lack of accountability for voucher participants “undermines our constitutional and moral duty to educate and protect the children of Texas.” He told members: “This should not be a political vote that makes someone across the hall, across the street, or in a town other than your district happy. We are sent here to vote our districts—I ask that you join me and vote your district.” 

The introduction of the amendment, though widely expected before Friday’s proceedings began, led to frosty exchanges between Republicans on the front and back mics, as voucher advocates attempted to paint those who supported the amendment as limiting opportunities for low-income students, as well as for students who had experienced bullying or abuse. These arguments, which public education proponents have pointed out as specious since the regular session, did not move the needle, however, and House members adopted the amendment on an 84-63 vote, with 21 Republicans joining 63 Democrats.

Once the amendment had been adopted and the voucher stripped from the bill, Rep. Four Price (R–Amarillo) made a double motion to reconsider the vote adopting the Raney amendment and then table that motion. This effectively meant the amendment to strip the voucher provisions could not be brought back up for reconsideration for the remainer of the debate. That motion was also approved by a vote of 84-63.

After a brief recess, Buckley then decided to recommit HB 1 to committee rather than pass the remaining portions of the bill containing school funding and teacher pay. Buckley told the media after the House recessed for the evening that he had no intention of holding another committee hearing to revive his bill. When asked why he recommitted HB 1 if he had no intention to move it forward, Buckley said: “We had a bill that didn’t pass. Had to do something with it.”

ATPE released a statement from Governmental Relations Director Monty Exter following the passage of the Raney amendment: “The Texas public education community is grateful to Rep. Raney and his colleagues for their determination to stand strong with their constituents and uphold their constitutional duty to provide a free public education for Texas children. What they did was not easy. We know they have been the focus of untold political pressure to switch their votes on vouchers. We are hopeful the governor and voucher proponents recognize that the unity of the public education community on this issue cannot be broken. It is past time to stop wasting taxpayer money on special sessions about vouchers and instead focus on supporting our Texas public school students and educators by raising the Basic Allotment and increasing salaries to improve teacher recruitment and retention. The Texas public education community and our legislative allies stand together, whether during the umpteenth special session or at the ballot box in March.”

Having gone from 83 members voting against vouchers during the regular session to 84 on Friday, it is now clear that after four special sessions, the governor has failed to move the needle in terms of getting more House members to vote for the voucher. The House Democratic Caucus echoed that sentiment in its statement following the vote, one of many similar statements coming from Democrats, Republicans, and nonpartisan political observers.

What is not clear at this time is the governor’s next move and whether he will bring the Legislature back for a fifth special session as he has previously stated. “Today’s vote is just another step on the path to provide school choice for parents and students across Texas,” Abbott said in a statement after the House adjourned for the evening. “I will continue advancing school choice in the Texas Legislature and at the ballot box, and will maintain the fight for parent empowerment until all parents can choose the best education path for their child.  I am in it to win it.” Abbott had previously stated that if the voucher were stripped from HB 1, “We’d be spending December here, maybe January here, maybe February here.” Special session No. 4 ends Dec. 8.

At this point in the fourth special session, the only remaining avenue for a school funding bill is House passage of Senate Bill (SB) 2 by Senate Education Chairman Brandon Creighton (R–Conroe) without amendments so it can be sent directly to the governor’s desk. SB 2 contains $6 billion in school funding, teacher pay, and school safety funding, but it does not contain a voucher because the Senate passed a separate voucher bill, SB 1. ATPE members can use Advocacy Central to encourage their House member to send SB 2 directly to the governor.


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