Report: No school choice measures in Texas without accountability

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas legislature this session will decide if taxpayer funds should help families pay for private school and home school supplies. Between the 2015 and 2017 legislative sessions, a select group of House members looked into the issue and highlighted what could be the key issue in the debate: accountability.

School choice advocates believe Education Savings Accounts would be the best way to directly impact students in failing schools and will lead to higher quality education across the state. Education Savings Accounts, known as ESAs, are like Health Savings Accounts. A family would receive a debit card with an amount of approximately $5,000 — the basic amount the state spends on every student. The family could then spend those funds on education materials or private school tuition.

The House Interim Report for the House Public Education Committee recommends ensuring any entity receiving public funds has fiscal and academic accountability. How lawmakers end up identifying that could be the difference between ESAs passing or not.

“In our mind, the ultimate accountability is the parent,” said Randan Steinhauser from Ed-Choice. She’s pushing Education Savings Accounts only to be used on accredited private schools, or lawmaker approved education materials. The comptroller would audit the education accounts and abusing the system would be a crime.

But academic accountability as we know it in public schools — tests, benchmarks, required standards — that’s a line in the sand.

“We would not advocate that you have any additional requirements such as an additional test or additional mandates from the states,” said Steinhauser.

KXAN went to the Texas Association of Business’s lawmaking conference to talk to Miranda Goodsheller. She wants as many education options as possible, but says details are not written on paper as of yet. Key legislation is expected to be filed in the coming days.

“We will figure out what works and maybe tweak it down the road. Starting with zero options isn’t going to be the solution,’ said Goodsheller,”The House is going to put more emphasis on fiscal responsibility then maybe the Senate side of it. The Senate has been very open to any and all options. TAB in the past has leaned that way as well.”

Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, is against taxpayer dollars being used for private school but echoes the overall feeling of the Republican-controlled Texas House.

“If this is ever going to happen, it needs to have accountability attached to it,” said Rep. Howard.

Two sessions ago, Texas House members passed an amendment to ban state funds from going to private schools. It did not become state law. House members tried again last session but failed.

School choice could also come up on the federal level. Betsy DeVos is Donald Trump’s nominee for education secretary. She is a supporter of vouchers and for-profit charter schools. DeVos’s Senate confirmation hearing was Tuesday in Washington.

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