AUSTIN (KXAN) — The end of the third special legislative session is approaching quickly, and still it appears Texas lawmakers are no closer to reaching a deal on a plan that would allow families to use public dollars to pay for their children’s private education.
The Texas House of Representatives gaveled in Monday afternoon and adjourned after six minutes, leaving its version of the school choice plan on the table. The Senate approved its plan more than two weeks ago that would create an education savings account program, carrying out one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s main priorities. However, the House held no debate so far on its version of the legislation.
Sherri Greenberg, a former lawmaker and a professor of practice at UT’s LBJ School of Public Affairs, noted the special session wraps next week on Tuesday.
“I think this bill, the chances at this point are probably slim to none [of it] passing in this special session,” Greenberg said Monday.
Abbott rallied at the end of last week at a private Christian school in San Antonio to shore up support for his stalled priority. He held similar events throughout the year. He previously said he would keep calling lawmakers back to the Capitol for more special sessions if they could not send a school voucher bill to his desk. He even suggested he may wade into certain Republican primaries next year if House members continue to oppose the measure.
The House’s version of the legislation, introduced by Republican Rep. Brad Buckley of Killeen, would bundle an increase in public school funding with establishing a program for subsidizing private education expenses. The Senate would like to tackle these separately. Abbott said he would only add school funding to the call for this special session if and when lawmakers approve vouchers. Greenberg explained this has likely kept the proposal from advancing further.
“I think it’s going to be extremely tough because the coalition that we have seen in the House remains, and that is a coalition of Democrats and rural Republicans who are not supporting whether you call it vouchers, school choice, various terminology,” she said. “This is historic, and it continues today.”
The Senate swiftly passed a bill that would allocate $500 million for the next two years to the program, allowing eligible students to receive up to $8,000 to help pay for the costs of private or charter schools. The school choice program would be administered by the state comptroller’s office, which would be responsible for preventing fraud and misuse of the money.
The Senate also passed a separate bill that would require $5.2 billion in additional school funding.
The House version dedicates significantly less money to education savings accounts than the Senate’s plan. It offers families 75% of the average per-student funding for public schools, or about $4,600.
House Bill 1, which is 180 pages in length, would also give teachers a one-time stipend of $4,000 and increase the base per-student funding by $30, from $6,160 to $6,190.
Until the governor adds public school funding to the special session agenda, the House will likely not be able to take the first crucial step and debate that legislation. The bill has yet to even receive a committee hearing. This sets the likelihood even higher the governor will have to call everyone back a fourth time.