Senate committee to hear voucher bills this Thursday

The Senate Education Committee will meet at 8 a.m. this Thursday morning, March 26, and plans to consider a number of private school voucher bills that have been filed this session. The following voucher bills are scheduled to be heard on Thursday:

Senate Bill (SB) 4 by Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). The bill is co-authored by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-San Antonio) and freshman Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston). SB 4 is the major school voucher bill being promoted by the Senate leadership, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R). It provides for both tax credits to educational assistance organizations that pay scholarships for students to attend private schools and also education tuition grants to be awarded to parents of eligible children attending private schools. Eligible students include those entering kindergarten or first grade, those in foster or institutional care, and those in families with household income that is equal to or less than 150 percent of the standard for qualifying for free or reduced lunch. As filed, the bill provides that grants paid to parents and scholarships paid by educational assistance organizations could not exceed 75 percent of the state’s average per-pupil spending. The total tax credits awarded by the state would be capped at $50 million per fiscal year. There is also language in the bill restricting state regulation of participating private schools.

SB 276 by Sen. Campbell would create a “taxpayer savings grant program” that is supposed to result in “state savings and government efficiency.” The bill would create a private school voucher in the traditional sense by offering parents reimbursement of tuition paid for their children to attend private schools. The reimbursements would come out of the state coffers and would amount to the lesser of the actual tuition or 60 percent of the state’s average per-pupil expenditure in the public schools.

SB 642 by Sen. Bettencourt calls for “a franchise or insurance premium tax credit for contributions made to certain educational assistance organizations.” Similar to the organizations included in Chairman Taylor’s SB 4, the “assistance organizations” mentioned in this bill are private entities that would receive tax credits from the state in exchange for providing scholarships for students to attend public or private schools. Bettencourt’s bill was originally referred to the Senate Finance Committee and then transferred to the Senate Education Committee.

SB 1178 filed by another freshman, Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas), sets up a voucher program through the use of education savings accounts for students attending private or home schools. Under this bill, the state would give parents access to public funds in a bank account, which could be withdrawn via a debit card and used to pay for private school tuition and fees, private tutoring, or various costs associated with home schooling their children. Participation would be limited with a preference given to educationally disadvantaged students or those with disabilities. Participating students would have to take tests annually and have their results reported to TEA, and the commissioner of education would establish rules to kick students out of the voucher program if they fail to “demonstrate satisfactory academic progress” as determined by the commissioner. The bill imposes some accreditation requirements and restrictions on private school admission policies but largely prohibits the state from attempting to regulate the private schools, tutors, or other providers participating in the voucher program. UPDATE: As of March 25, this bill has been removed from the committee’s agenda for the March 26 hearing.

ATPE will oppose these bills and any efforts to direct taxpayer dollars that are needed for public education to private or home schools. Visit our page called “The Issues” to read more about these and other voucher bills and ATPE’s opposition to privatization in general. To watch live video of the hearing, click here on Thursday or search the same site for archived video shortly after the hearing.

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