AUSTIN (Nexstar) — After two weeks of a tumultuous impeachment trial following nearly nine straight months of work for the part-time legislature, Texas lawmakers will return to the Capitol in October for a special session that will determine whether Gov. Greg Abbott can finally finish his push to send public dollars to private schools.
On Tuesday, Gov. Abbott told Christian faith leaders in a tele-town hall that he intends to call a special session next month, and he is ready to call a subsequent session after that if lawmakers do not pass his plan for school vouchers. If he still cannot pass a bill, he threatened to take the issue to voters through legislators’ primary elections.
“There’s an easy way to get it done and a hard way to get it done,” Gov. Abbott said. “The easy way will be for these legislators to come into the regular session, this next special session, and vote in favor of school choice. So if they make it the hard way, we’re happy to take the hard way also. Either way, I’m in this to win this.”
All year, the Governor has spent considerable time and political capital in support of his “school choice” initiatives — chief among them, a school voucher-like program to send eligible families $8,000 per child to subsidize private school expenses.
Yet even after months of stumping and arm-wringing, the Governor’s priorities faced bipartisan roadblocks in the Texas House. Some legislators believe the school voucher measure has no more support today than it did when it failed to clear committee months ago.
“My understanding is it still doesn’t have the votes,” Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, told Nexstar. “If the governor has the determination to call us back session after session after session, I think it’ll fail again and again and again, unless and until people finally collapsed to some sort of political pressure.”
Sen. Johnson’s chamber passed school voucher bills with ease this session. Senate Bill 8, dubbed the “Parental Bill of Rights” by its author Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), passed 18-13 in April.
The Legislative Budget Board estimated that legislation would cost Texas $4.9 billion through 2028. It failed to get out of the House Public Education Committee.
“I’m never going to be in support of sending our precious taxpayer dollars to unaccountable private schools that don’t have to meet any of the requirements that our public schools have to meet. This is going to destroy public education in the state of Texas,” State Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, told Nexstar Tuesday.
As Gov. Abbott prepares to met with faith leaders to rally support for the measure on Tuesday, other Christian advocacy groups are pushing back on the faith-based justification for his plans.
Pastors for Texas Children has long been opposed to school vouchers programs. They lobby pastors across the state to get involved in the political process and make their opposition known in the legislature. Their executive director, Reverend Charles Johnson, believes a school voucher program would be detrimental to both children and churches.
“We have school choice now in the public school system, and to take that money and advance a private school choice option simply is unjust. What about the people who don’t have children in school? What about those who have no faith? Are we going to violate their civil liberties and constitutionally protected liberties by taking this money and and supporting a religious cause? It’s not right,” Rev. Johnson told Nexstar.
School vouchers are not the only outstanding education priority for Texas leaders, however. Increases to public education funding and teacher pay fell victim to the fight over school vouchers in the regular session after the Texas Senate attached to voucher plan to a school funding bill. Democratic lawmakers worry the two issues will be entangled once again.
“The Texas House came together across party lines to pass a bill that would increase teacher pay increased funding for our kids in our schools, and the Texas Senate held that bill hostage to try to pass their voucher scam,” Talarico said. “I’m hopeful that that bipartisan coalition in the Texas House will stand strong for our public schools.”
“I’m very worried about how those tops will play off of each other. We’ve seen this movie before. At the end of session, there was a bill that had broad support, and it blew up because they staple the voucher bill on to it. Are we going to connect those two? Are we going to make public education contingent on a hold-your-breath-until-you-turn-blue voucher effort? I sure hope not because because I think it will fail again.”