AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Ahead of an expected special legislative session related to public and private education, a select Texas House committee is proposing an avenue for creating a school voucher program, one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s priorities that did not get accomplished during the regular session.
The select committee issued a report on Friday that outlines a potential compromise for leaders on school vouchers and also addresses a variety of issues facing Texas schools as many head back to school this week. The bipartisan 15-member committee issued a number of recommendations related to issues like teacher retainment, student outcomes and overall public school finance.
A school voucher program would allow parents to use public dollars to help pay for private school education. During the regular session, the Senate passed a voucher bill but it never made it across the finish line in the House — where several rural conservatives did not get on board after expressing concerns about how it would impact their districts, which do not have limited or no private school options in some towns.
While the committee did not fully endorse how vouchers were proposed during the regular session, their report suggested a more limited scope.
The committee instead recommended a program that would prioritize giving the funds to students with higher needs and emphasized a financial separation from the state’s overall public education budget. Vice Chair Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, D-San Antonio, noted that if the Legislature goes through with a voucher program, there should be a pilot version with an expiration date so lawmakers can assess its efficacy before continuing it further.
In June, House Speaker Dade Phelan created the committee with the charge of addressing “educational opportunities” for Texas students. It came after Gov. Greg Abbott vowed to call lawmakers back eventually for a special session to pass a version of school vouchers, although it is unclear what type of program the governor might recommend.
Beyond vouchers, the committee’s report also suggests exploring the expansion of existing educational options within the state’s public education system like enhancing STEM academies, career and technical skill development and early-college high schools.
Only one member of the committee — Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin — did not sign off on the report. In a letter attached to the report, Hinojosa listed concerns with some of the details of the recommendations and overall issues with not giving as much funding to Texas schools as possible.
“Our recommendations and work must be on securing the core function of our public schools, which is to offer a high-quality public education to all Texas public school students,” she wrote. “This core function cannot be achieved if Texas continues to skimp on the cost of providing a public education.”
Similarly, Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, wrote about his opposition to vouchers in general but still signed off on the final report. And Republican Rep. Gary VanDeaver of New Boston raised concerns about accountability for private schools if Texas starts to indirectly send them funds.
Top Republican leaders have signaled a special session on vouchers would likely be in October after the September impeachment trial against suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton is over.