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House Select Committee holds two-day hearing on “educational opportunity and enrichment”

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

School Finance Texas Legislature Privatization | Vouchers Educator Compensation | Benefits Testing | Accountability

Date Posted: 7/13/2023 | Author: Tricia Cave

The House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment met July 11­­–12 to consider the three charges given to the committee by Speaker Dade Phelan (R–Beaumont) when he formed the committee in mid-June: 

  • Ensuring all Texas youths enjoy equal educational opportunity and the freedom to obtain a quality education, regardless of circumstance.
  • Improving outcomes for Texas public school students and meaningfully supporting educators and educational institutions.
  • Modernizing assessment and accountability measures for Texas schools educating K-12 students.

The hearing preceded an expected fall special session on education issues, which is likely to be centered on vouchers. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has made “school choice” one of his top priorities for the 88th Legislature, with both he and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) stating they were willing to have multiple special sessions to get a bill passed.

Although the public could leave comments on the committee hearing webpage, the committee did not provide the public with an opportunity to testify at the hearing, instead taking invited testimony only. The hearing was lengthy and stretched into the late afternoon on both days. Chairman Brad Buckley (R–Killeen) told committee members he expected this to be the committee’s only meeting and that a report would be produced later this summer.   

In opening statements, Buckley expressed hope the committee would help critical education legislation from the regular session make it over the finish line. Vice Chair Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D–San Antonio), who has often been at odds with educators on the issue of educational privatization during her tenure, stated she was excited about the opportunity to “leave archaic feelings behind” and “truly transform public education.” 

Public education stakeholders from across the state gave testimony regarding their needs and how to retain and attract quality teachers. Pay, increased workloads, and lack of support were cited as critical issues affecting the profession.  

Montgomery ISD Superintendent Heath Morrison, speaking about educator pay and districts’ increasingly stretched resources, said society needs to stop making educators feel guilty for asking for a pay raise. “People in the private sector don't apologize for earning their worth,” Morrison said. “In the public sector, we make our teachers feel guilty about... a pay raise... be[ing] something to consider.” 

Multiple individuals who testified cited an increase to the Basic Allotment as a way to increase public school funding and provide a much-needed teacher pay raise. A $1,000 increase to the BA is needed just to keep up with inflation following 2019’s House Bill (HB) 3, which gave a much-needed infusion to strained public education budgets. 

Rep. James Talarico (D–Round Rock), a former teacher, expressed concern about moving forward with legislation on Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) while not addressing public school funding. “It’s my opinion we shouldn’t be messing with any pet projects or education savings accounts until we do the $1,000 increase,” Talarico said.

Regarding reforms to the testing and accountability system, Buckley expressed a need to simplify the system and provide meaningful feedback for teachers and parents to use in educating students: “The accountability systems are really for the adults. We do that to change adult behavior. We do that on the backs of kids. The stress level we see in our classrooms, in our schools, right or wrong, it’s real.” He said the goal moving forward would be less testing, not more. Through-year testing was frequently mentioned as a way to achieve this goal, with administration of multiple smaller tests throughout the year that do not require school shutdowns and the providing of more immediate, usable feedback for use in student remediation.

The issue that took up most of the two-day hearing was vouchers. The committee heard from multiple panels on both sides of the issue, including special education experts, on the potential impact of school choice legislation on public schools and student achievement.

Talarico, questioning a panel of TEA representatives, asked about the federal protections special education students would give up when taking an ESA and going to a private school. TEA representatives confirmed those students would lose federal protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and that there was no requirement to notify parents of the loss of such rights once their children leave public schools. Questioning a panel of special education experts, committee members discussed expansion of programs such as the Supplemental Special Education Services grants, as well as the ever-increasing paperwork required of teachers who serve special education students. Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D–Austin), referencing the concerns of other committee members about meeting the needs of special education students in public schools, stated: “one innovative way to reimagine special education would be to fully fund public education.”

While questioning panels of private school representatives, concerns were raised regarding accountability for public funds and private schools not being willing to take the STAAR test. Laura Colangelo, speaking for the Texas Private Schools Association, said the test doesn’t make sense for private schools and that the national norm-referenced tests taken by private school students meet or exceed the standards set for public schools.  Many members, including Rep. Keith Bell (R–Forney), expressed concern that private schools were asking for public dollars without public accountability. Talarico and Hinojosa pressed private school representatives repeatedly on the availability of private school financial and academic accountability data for the public.

As the committee wrapped up Wednesday, Buckley thanked committee members for their passion on both sides of the voucher issue, stating that his goal had always been simply to have the conversation. In closing, Buckley said: “What resonates with me is this: The Basic Allotment needs to be more than it is now.”

The report from the Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment is expected later this summer. The report will be key as legislation is crafted ahead of the expected special session on education issues this fall.




Buckley is for all this Online Education Resources which replaces the teachers. I’d love to hear what their vision is 5-10 years down the road. ESAs will hurt sped the most and the poorer communities. Those who can’t afford private schools will still not be able to afford it. There’s plenty of money in public schools if the school districts would actually be held accountable for illegal decisions. The district I work in had admin approve a $2 million curriculum without following the SHAC process. Lots of top heavy admin banking 6 figure salaries while saying it’s the teachers fault and what other curriculum can we buy to help. Well the teachers need extra staff to help students that are behind. Students learn best with better students to teachers ratios. Teachers don’t need new curriculum and especially curriculum that costs millions of dollars. This legislators are so out of touch on what is really going on in schools. And to only allow invited guests to speak on vouchers and school choice is ridiculous. These committee members need to go visit the schools and actually talk to real teachers. I’ve gone and testified during 88th legislation. There’s too many deals made to get the real important bills to pass. Those legislators have forgotten who they work for. They are public servants and should not be voting their own personal agendas.

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