Texas House Public Education Committee hears testimony and votes on controversial special education bill
School Finance Texas Legislature COVID-19 Privatization | Vouchers
Date Posted: 5/18/2021 | Author: Andrea Chevalier
The House Public Education (HPE) Committee met Tuesday, May 18, upon adjournment of the full House to hear several bills. It was the committee’s second meeting this week as deadlines for House committees to vote on Senate bills are nearing. As we reported yesterday, Committee Chairman Harold Dutton (D-Houston) postponed initial plans to hear a voucher bill during yesterday’s committee meeting after many in the education community complained that the bill was going to be put to a vote without an opportunity for testimony on it or a companion version of the bill.
Accordingly, the committee changed its course and took public testimony today on Senate Bill (SB) 1716 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), a bill aimed at codifying the Governor’s Supplemental Special Education Services voucher program that was created during the interim using federal COVID emergency relief funds. The governor’s program sends up to $1,500 of taxpayer dollars to eligible families for supplemental special education services or materials obtained through private vendors. ATPE and many other education groups have been opposed to SB 1716 as filed on the grounds that special education programs should be fully funded through the public school system to meet the needs of students needing special education services as required and protected by federal law.
Today, the bill’s House sponsor, Chairman Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), described three proposed amendments to SB 1716 that were later approved. The committee discussed whether the bill creates a voucher, the argument for which deals with who receives the public funds. Answering a question by committee member and educator Dr. Alma Allen (D-Houston) about who receives the money, Bonnen explained that the funds would be managed through an Education Service Center and then paid to an approved provider.
ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter provided oral testimony against the bill but noted our appreciation of the proposed amendments discussed in committee today. Exter stressed that the admission, review, and dismissal (ARD) committee should be involved in ensuring that any supplemental services are supportive of compensatory services being provided to students, which are meant to make up for time when the child was not being served under an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Exter also expressed concern about the need to vet and ensure quality of vendors, and quality control is not expressly delineated in SB 1716. Exter also stated our support for an expiration date that was proposed as an amendment to the bill.
The Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education (TCASE) testified against the bill, saying that resources should be provided to school districts so that they can fund compensatory services for special education to meet the requirements of a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Disability Rights Texas also testified against the bill, noting that the proposed legislation does not address some of our state’s most pressing issues, such as the need to remediate past infractions of special education laws as identified by the U.S. Department of Education.
Three amendments were offered on the bill, all of which were approved by a vote of 11-0:
- Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston): Amendment involves the admission, review, and dismissal (ARD) committee in the process created by the bill for parents to obtain supplemental services. The amendment also sets an expiration date for the program of Sept. 1, 2024.
- Rep. Keith Bell (R-Forney): Amendment changes the word “credit” to “grant” to make clear that a payment for services is not a credit to a child’s account.
- Rep. Brad Buckley (R-Killeen): Amendment requires that one or more Education Service Centers administer the program.
The committee is expected to meet again this week to vote on referred and pending business. As we noted yesterday, there are still troubling bills that have been referred to the HPE committee and could come up for a vote this week, including the problematic charter school bill SB 28 and the social studies curriculum bill SB 2202. As always, ATPE members are encouraged to visit Advocacy Central to send messages to their lawmakers about bills of concern.
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