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Senate receives overwhelming opposition to vouchers

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

Date Posted: 3/23/2023 | Author: Mark Wiggins

The Texas Senate Education Committee received overwhelming opposition to school vouchers in a marathon hearing Wednesday. 

The committee heard four voucher bills along with a bill focused on teacher issues. More than 1,000 people registered positions on Wednesday’s bills, and opponents of plans to spending public tax dollars intended for public education on unaccountable private schools vastly outnumbered supporters.

ATPE Senior Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified in opposition to Senate Bill (SB) 8 by Committee Chair Brandon Creighton (R–Conroe), which is dubbed a “parental empowerment” bill. It contains a number of provisions—the largest of which is an education savings account (ESA) voucher program. ATPE has written previously about the bill’s specific provisions.

Wiggins pointed out that many teachers are parents and support efforts to make the education system more transparent in a way that doesn’t create additional burdensome administrative requirements. Wiggins also noted that vouchers are unrelated to parental empowerment and that ATPE has consistently opposed redirecting taxpayer dollars from public schools to subsidize tuition for private and parochial schools.

ATPE testified neutrally on Creighton's SB 9, which is styled as a “teacher bill of rights.” As filed, the bill contains an unspecified teacher pay raise and several unrelated provisions, some of which ATPE opposes. Creighton submitted a committee substitute that stakeholders were not permitted to view before the hearing. As the chairman explained, the substitute clarifies that the bill would provide a $2,000 across-the-board raise for all teachers and an additional $4,000 that may be available for some teachers in smaller districts.

Wiggins testified that legislators must deliver a significant raise if they are to attract and retain more teachers and suggested a $10,000 starting point. Wiggins also explained a dangerous provision in the bill that would eliminate elected State Board of Education (SBOE) oversight of rule actions taken by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), which is an unelected body that sets statewide policy regarding teacher certification and educator preparation programs.

The committee also heard the following bills:

  • SB 2483 by Sen. Angela Paxton (R–McKinney), which consists of an ESA voucher similar to SB 8, except that it applies to all students in the state and would be based on the previous year’s statewide average per-student funding. This year, that would be around $10,000. ATPE opposes this bill.
  • SB 176 by Sen. Mayes Middleton (R–Galveston), which would create an ESA voucher program open to all students. ATPE opposes this bill.
  • SB 2354 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston), which would create an ESA voucher targeting students with a disability, those covered under Section 504, those in a household earning 200% or less of the income required for participation in the federal reduced-price lunch program, or a sibling. ATPE opposes this bill.
  • Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 29 by A. Paxton, which would ask Texas voters to amend the state constitution to guarantee that a parent has the right to “direct the education of the parent's child,” including the right to “make reasonable choices within the public school system; choose an alternative to public education, including a private school, parochial school, or home school; access and view public school teaching materials, textbooks and other instructional materials, and library books; attend meetings of the governing body of a public school; access public school student records for the parent's child, including the child's student health records; and access and view academic assessment instruments,” among other things. Paxton offered a committee substitute that removed language granting a right to view test materials, citing concern over test confidentiality.

The hearing began at 9 a.m. and wrapped up just after midnight. The committee left all bills pending and is expected to vote at a future meeting.


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