Austin (KXAN) – The Texas House on Wednesday postponed a Senate bill to create a school voucher-like program in the state. Senate Bill 9 was amended to include several measures that would have provided some increase to teacher salaries at a time when educators are quitting the profession in large numbers.
The move means the bill will not pass this legislative session – and leaves House Bill 100 as the last viable bill in the Texas legislature that could provide a raise to teachers.
House Bill 100, which was drastically changed in the Senate Commission on Public Education to include a school voucher-like program or Education Savings Accounts, and passed by the Senate on Tuesday, is now headed back to the House where representatives have expressed upset over the additions.
The fight over school choice and teacher salaries playing out in the Texas legislature comes as school districts are establishing budgets and new wages for the upcoming school year.
Many educators, according to school districts in the state, are deciding now if they will return the next year. Austin Independent School District trustees voted last week to use $53 million in reserve funds to provide staff with a 7% raise for the next school year.
The AISD board president described the decision as “necessary” and as a “risk.”
“The failure to pass meaningful school finance legislation leaves school districts in the lurch. School districts are racing headlong off a financial cliff as federal COVID recovery dollars expire,” Dax Gonzalez with the Texas Association of School Boards said in a statement to KXAN.
“As those dollars go away, we are not seeing any movement from the state legislature to increase funding for public schools.”
Under HB 100, Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) would provide parents up to $8,000 towards private school education or other support services – like tutoring.
School districts, and education advocates, have argued any school voucher program would take funding away from public schools because it would impact enrollment – and the state funding tied to the number of students who attend public schools.
“We have studied 20 years of data from other states that have implemented private school choice programs, and the public schools have improved in the areas with robust school choice programs,” Texas Private Schools Association Executive Director Laura Colangelo said.
HB 100 would also provide school districts a $500 allotment for every student that is evaluated for special education services – and would increase the per pupil funding school districts receive by $50. The bill, if passed, would require districts to put a certain portion of those funds toward teacher compensation.
It would set the state allotment at $6,210.
But school district leaders say the basic allotment would need to go up at least $900 to keep up with the rising costs. The last time the legislature increased the basic allotment was before the pandemic in 2019.
“Districts really are in dire straits,” Gonzalez said. “Just like families across the state, schools are experiencing record inflation – between 14% and 17% since 2019. We’re about $1,000 per student behind where we should be just to make up for inflation, and state legislators are debating $50 to $100 per-student increases.”
“This isn’t wish list stuff – this isn’t for every kid to have an iPad or the newest athletic facilities. School leaders are focused on paying their teachers, keeping the buses running, and educating 5.5 million children.”