School vouchers long proposed for years in Texas but haven't made it all the way

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Wednesday, March 1, 2023
Explainer: What is a school voucher and how would they work?
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School vouchers have a long history in Texas. They've been proposed, but haven't made it through. ABC13 explains what they are and how they work.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- School vouchers have a long history in Texas. They've been proposed for many years but haven't been able to make it through the process. No legislation proposed to date is ready to be voted into law, but ABC13 wanted to take a look at what some of these proposed bills will offer parents and guardians.

Senate Bill 176, sponsored by Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Galveston, is known as the Texas Parental Empowerment Program. It gives quite a bit of detail in some places but not in others.

SEE ALSO: $10,000 vouchers could be coming to Texas parents to expand school choice

As it stands now, here's how the bills work: For the first year, children would be accepted as funding allows. Once a child is accepted, the state comptroller would make monthly payments into a savings account that could be used on a variety of school-related expenses. The bill highlights private school tuition and fees which might include: books, uniforms, computers, educational therapies and transportation to and from school. It can also be used to cover public school fees like extracurriculars and transportation to and from school. The program would be made up of dollars from the state's general revenue fund, monies appropriated for the program and grants or gifts. It does say, this bill would not include any federal funding. ABC13 has previously reported this would come out to around $10,000 a year per student.

According to the Education Data Initiative's website, the average price of Texas private school tuition alone is around $9,000 a year but $10,000 is a good chunk of change.

So how will the state make sure it's actually being spent on school-related costs?

The proposed legislation says there would be random audits, and accounts found to be misusing funds could be suspended, closed or sent to the attorney general's office. This bill would rely heavily on the state comptroller's office for applications to apply and disbursements of funds. When Eyewitness News spoke to the state office, they said because the legislation is so early in the works, they can't say if they would be able to handle the job or how much it would cost.

House Bill 557, introduced by Rep. Cody Vasut, R-Angleton, is labeled as an education expense reimbursement program. But what does that mean?

As the bill currently stands, there are four pages outlining that a parent may be paid back for tuition and fees at a state-accredited private school or online education classes. Included in this would be textbooks, and other educational materials, standardized testing, fees for classes and other education expenses provided by public schools, transportation to and from school, and for private tutors. Plus, if a child has disabilities, the bill also says parents can be reimbursed for educational therapies.

SEE ALSO: State school board eases stance on vouchers after previously rejecting 'school choice' policies

To be paid back, parents would need a receipt for each allowed expense. But how much money are we talking about? Parents or guardians will get one payment a year that comes out to the same amount that parent spends in state and local sales taxes during a year. According to the Census Bureau, the average Texas resident pays just over $5,000 in state and local sales tax a year.

But plenty remains unclear as the bill is up for debate, like when would a voucher program be able to go into effect? Where would the money ultimately come from? How would parents apply for funding? Because this bill hasn't gone far enough, the comptroller's office tells me it's way too early to say how the details would work.

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