AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A Texas House committee rewrote a bill that would allow parents to use taxpayer dollars for private school tuition. The substitute legislation debated Monday is getting major pushback, including a veto threat from the governor, for significantly limiting who can access what are known as “education savings accounts.”
Additionally, this committee substitute for Senate Bill 8 would eliminate the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test and some other high-stakes testing for Texas students. Rep. Brad Buckley, the Salado Republican who serves as chair of the House public education committee, told a crowded hearing room Monday morning that he sees the proposed testing changes as part of a larger push to improve the accountability system for schools.
“Before I go into the specifics of the substitute, I want you all to know that I do not take this task lightly, and I understand the passion involved on both sides of this issue,” Buckley said.
Within the updated version of the bill, it calls for the STAAR test for high school students to give way to the Texas Success Initiative Assessment (TSIA). According to the Texas Education Agency’s website, the TSIA is “designed to guide Texas public institutions of higher education in helping them determine whether students are ready for entry-level college coursework” in English and math.
The public education committee hearing featured testimony from only invited speakers Monday, and some of them, like Paige Williams from the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, expressed skepticism about this latest addition to school voucher plan.
“Something as important and complex as standardized testing should not be a last-minute enticement to vote for vouchers,” Williams told the lawmakers in her remarks.
Other opponents who attended the hearing shared similar sentiments. Brian Woods, the superintendent of the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, called the testing reform a part of the strategy to sell a plan that lacked support in the House.
“It would be STAAR 2.0, right? But we would just name it something else because there’s such general hatred for the test in our state,” Woods said. “It’s not like testing is going away or the accountability system that uses those test results in really punitive ways — all that stays in place.”
Other Republican members on the House panel defended the inclusion of these testing reforms.
“I’m just frustrated that people seem to sit on the sidelines and wait to somebody like Chairman Buckley puts in all this work, and then they just throw rocks at what he’s done,” Rep. Cole Hefner, R-Mt. Pleasant, said at Monday’s hearing. “Where’s your idea? Where’s your idea on an accountability system and a testing system that will work?”
The legislation calls for eliminating the STAAR test as early as the 2027-2028 school year if a new assessment can get the federal approval it would need.
Some school choice advocates are joining Gov. Greg Abbott in opposing this version of the bill. Their criticism centers on the proposal only allowing students with disabilities or those who attend an F-rated campus to access an education savings accounts. This would mean fewer than a million students would be eligible to enter the voucher program.
Mandy Drogin, who works on education policy for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said she does not expect this plan will have much chance of advancing now.
“No, I don’t see that it’s going to go very far because it’s not good enough,” Drogin said Monday. “It’s doesn’t do Texans a good service. This entire legislative session is to serve Texans. This bill, this current committee sub is far too limited. It cuts out far too many parents that are asking for better choices, so, no, I don’t think it’s going to go very far.”