The full Senate today approved on second reading a bill to create a massive private school voucher “scholarship” program in Texas. The vote on Senate Bill (SB) 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) was 18 to 12, though originally announced as being 17 to 13. (Click here to read more about the vote breakdown.) Sometimes referred to as a “backdoor voucher,” SB 4 sets up a mechanism for businesses to receive a state franchise tax credit in exchange for contributions to private school scholarships.
Today’s floor vote came after less than an hour of debate and four unsuccessful attempts by Democratic senators to amend the bill. Sens. Jose Menendez (D), Rodney Ellis (D), Jose Rodriguez (D), and Sylvia Garcia (D) attempted to add floor amendments that would prohibit private schools that accept voucher dollars from discriminating against students in their admission policies; prevent the voucher schools from using the Common Core State Standards (already prohibited in Texas public schools) as part of their curriculum; require voucher schools to administer tests and be subject to accountability ratings in the same manner as public schools, and require voucher schools to maintain certain services to students with special needs in the same manner as public schools. All four amendments failed to pass.
Taylor, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, successfully moved to table each amendment after complaining that the amendments would create entitlements and impose unnecessary regulations on private schools. He seldom strayed from his underlying argument in defense of SB 4, claiming that the bill does not create a voucher program because it calls for private dollars to be paid by private entities in the form of scholarships to private schools (disregarding the fact that the private scholarships would be funded in direct exchange for a state-subsidized tax credit and would result in a loss of funds to public schools).
Following the vote, one of the bill’s outspoken supporters, Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) tweeted, “The only shortcoming of SB 4 is it doesn’t go far enough to expand choice & raise performance at all schools via consumer accountability.” By contrast, a tweet from the Austin American-Statesman, which published a scathing editorial against the voucher plan just yesterday, reiterated its editorial staff’s opinion that SB 4 is “not likely to help special education students.”
Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) was absent from today’s proceedings after having been injured in a motorcyle accident yesterday. He underwent surgery today for injuries that are not considered life-threatening, and he is not expected to return to the Senate until next week. It is unclear whether Seliger’s absence made a difference in today’s votes. Seliger has vocally opposed private school vouchers in the past, but he voted for SB 4 when it was approved by the Senate Education Committee earlier this month.
SB 4 remains on the Senate Intent Calendar for a likely third reading vote tomorrow, April 21. ATPE members are urged to keep contacting their senators and sharing with them reasons why they should oppose this harmful bill.