Texas' 3rd special session on school vouchers starts next week

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Saturday, October 7, 2023
School vouchers could get watered down during special session: Expert
One political science professor believes the Senate will easily pass Gov. Abbott's goal legislation during this special session, which begins Monday, but the House will be a different story.

AUSTIN, Texas (KTRK) -- The future of Texas' education will be up for debate in a special session, but experts said the mess left behind from Attorney General Ken Paxton's impeachment trial could impact the process.

Giving parents education options was one of Gov. Greg Abbott's campaign promises. This month, he's trying to fulfill it with a special session.

On the table are thousands of public dollars parents could use for private school.

"The dollar amounts are up for negotiations," Rice University political science professor Mark Jones explained. "An $8,000 voucher has been the one that's most common."

Jones said the dollar amount isn't the only debate. The idea failed during the regular session. It should pass the Senate, but Jones said it may struggle to make its way out of the other chamber.

"There's a lot of reluctance for those rural lawmakers to do anything that could potentially undermine the local ISD," Jones said.

Districts are funded by the students they have. If students move to private schools, public schools would receive less money. Jones said some rural Republicans worry this could cripple their districts. Even if you don't have kids in school, Jones says this could impact you. If schools receive less money, it could impact performance and hurt home values.

If you're a parent wondering how the voucher program would work, here's what you need to know. If you keep your kid in public school, nothing would change.

If you remove your kid, an education savings account would open. Money would be put there. Parents could use the money for private school, homeschooling or private tutoring. If it does pass, it doesn't mean everyone will receive money.

"The plans almost exclusively reduce the use for future vouchers to those people who presently have children in the public schools and in large with schools that are failing with campus grades of a C, D, or F," Jones explained.

Abbott said the proposal is about school choice. However, with it having a hard time clearing the House, Jones said a smaller scale version may be more attractive for members.

"It is possible some type of pilot project or some kind of watered down form of voucher legislation could pass out of the House, but I don't know if the Republican-controlled Senate under (Lieutenant Governor) or Gov. Abbott would consider that sufficient," Jones explained.

Debate will start Monday. Lawmakers will have a month to figure it out. If they don't, Jones said the fight may not be over.

"If they don't pass it during this third special session, they're going to go for a fourth special session and if they don't pass it then, then he's going to support primary challengers in the March Republican primaries," Jones explained.

While lawmakers will discuss vouchers, teacher raises are not on the agenda. Jones said it could be because the governor wants to save it until lawmakers finish vouchers.

"It's always possible that if voucher legislation is passed, he uses that as a carrot and then puts it on the agenda and they can pass it later in October or early November," Jones said.

Another item that could stall work is the mess left behind from Paxton's impeachment trial. It ended last month. When it did, the lieutenant governor criticized the House speaker for how the process was handled.

"In modern times, I don't think we've had a more toxic relationship between a lieutenant governor and speaker than we do today," Jones said.

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