Texas lawmakers debate school vouchers in face of rural Republican, Democratic opposition

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Tuesday, October 10, 2023
Inside Texas special session No. 3: Education front and center
The third special legislative session of 2023 is underway with education in focus, but more laws could debated in the 30-day period.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Education is front and center in this new upcoming special session. At the front of the class is an effort to push school vouchers, or Education Savings Accounts, which would allow parents to use public money to send their children to private or homeschools.

State Rep. Jacey Jetton, R-Richmond, authored the legislation in the Texas House.

"I'm hopeful that we're going to be able to get something across the finish line that's good for Texas children, for parents, and for educators," Jetton said. "We have a lot of good public schools. We have a lot of good teachers. We want to make sure that those specific kids that don't have those options that aren't having the best opportunity for, to achieve the best education, have an option somewhere else."

But his bill faces an uphill climb in the House, where rural Republicans and Democrats oppose vouchers. Democrats reiterated that stance on Monday afternoon, calling the plan a scheme and a scam.

SEE MORE: School vouchers could get watered down during special session: Expert

"We are united," Texas House Democratic Caucus Chair Trey Martinez Fischer said. "No vouchers. No deal. Pretty simple."

The Texas Senate approved school choice during the regular session, but State Senator Carol Alvarado believes vouchers hurt schools.

RELATED: Texas Legislature 2023: What survived and failed as session wraps up

"They get money based on attendance," Alvarado told ABC13. "And if you have vouchers, that's going to start to deteriorate our public education system. As it is, we're already underfunding our public education system. We're underpaying our teachers. That has to stop."

To that end, State Sen. Brandon Creighton, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, introduced Senate Bill 2. His office said the historic funding plan would increase school safety funding by $400 million, add $975 million to school budgets, and allocate $3.8 billion specifically for across-the-board raises for Texas teachers, including $3,000 raises for all teachers and $7,000 for teachers in small and midsize districts.

Education is not the only agenda item that Gov. Greg Abbott wants lawmakers to tackle. He also wants to do away with mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for private employers and put more resources on the border, where he said the federal government has failed.

To that end, State Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, proposed House Bill 11, empowering local law enforcement along the border to act as immigration officers.

"What we're saying here is, not just sort of going house to house and grabbing people," Oliverson said. "But essentially, if somebody is an act of crossing over into this country, into this state illegally and are apprehended by state law enforcement while in the process of doing that, they can be returned to Mexico at a point event, at a port of entry."

Oliverson believes he has the support to get it passed. And it may be more likely to get to the governor's desk than vouchers unless opponents soften their positions.

The special session can last, at most, 30 days, but Abbott has the power to keep calling them until the start of the next regular session in January 2025.

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