An amendment has been filed by Rep. John Raney and has gained the support of over a dozen Republicans, which is enough to effectively put an end to the push for vouchers in the lower chamber. This news was initially reported by the Texas Tribune and can be found on their website. The amendment, which was filed on Friday morning, aims to remove school vouchers from House Bill 1, a comprehensive education bill in Texas. If passed, this would significantly weaken the bill, as the voucher provision is its key component.
Rep. John Raney of College Station filed the amendment, and it has garnered support from several other Republicans, including Reps. Glenn Rogers, Ernest Bailes, Justin Holland, Hugh Shine, Stan Lambert, Steve Allison, Drew Darby, Ed Thompson, DeWayne Burns, Charlie Geren, and Andrew Murr. To successfully pass the amendment, all 65 Democrats in the chamber would need to support it, along with just 10 Republican votes. House members convened on Friday to discuss the bill, with a vote expected to take place later in the day.
Historically, a coalition of Democrats and rural Republicans has prevented the creation of a voucher system in Texas. This system would allow parents to use tax dollars to send their children to private schools. Despite efforts from Gov. Greg Abbott and his team to persuade Republican holdouts to support vouchers, the alliance has remained strong. During the regular legislative session earlier this year, numerous Republicans expressed their disapproval of vouchers. HB 1, authored by Rep. Brad Buckley, is a $7 billion bill that not only includes funding increases for public schools but also introduces education savings accounts, which are similar to vouchers.
The education savings accounts outlined in HB 1 would provide funding for approximately 40,000 students who leave the public education system. These students would receive either $10,500 annually for private school expenses or up to $1,000 for homeschooling. The program would prioritize students from low-income families and those with disabilities, but eligibility would be extended to all students as funds permit. Gov. Abbott has stated that he will veto HB 1 if it does not include the voucher provision, emphasizing that it is his top priority this year. Republican opponents of the bill may face challenges in the upcoming 2024 primaries.
Supporters of school vouchers argue that they empower parents to make the best educational decisions for their children. On the other hand, opponents claim that these programs divert funding away from public schools, which rely on student attendance for funding. Critics argue that the money would be better utilized in already underfunded public schools, which are grappling with inflation and declining enrollment. While many public school advocates welcome the additional funding in HB 1, some lawmakers have made it clear that they will not support the bill if it includes the education savings account provision.
School voucher bills have been passed multiple times by the Senate this year and in previous years. However, they have consistently been blocked in the House by a coalition of Democratic and rural Republican opponents. The passage of HB 1 by a House committee marked a small victory for Gov. Abbott and pro-voucher advocates, who have been negotiating with House members since the regular legislative session. Despite this progress, the fate of the bill in the full chamber remains uncertain.
Rep. Gary VanDeaver, who represents rural communities in House District 1, supports having a discussion on the bill but does not endorse it in its current form. Similarly, Rep. Ken King voted in favor of passing the bill to the full House, even though he opposes vouchers. Before the debate on HB 1, lawmakers approved two school safety bills that allocate $1.3 billion to fund new safety measures in Texas public schools. These bills aim to address concerns raised by school officials regarding the lack of funding for implementing previous safety mandates. The proposed constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 1, was also approved, which creates a new school safety fund.
This article will be updated as more information becomes available. The Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan media organization, is dedicated to informing and engaging Texans on public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.