Texas Senate Education Committee hears special education voucher bill
Texas Legislature Privatization | Vouchers
Date Posted: 4/20/2021 | Author: Mark Wiggins
The Texas Senate Education Committee met Tuesday, April 20, to consider bills, including one that would make permanent a temporary special education voucher program implemented by Gov. Greg Abbott last fall. ATPE opposes the measure, Senate Bill (SB) 1716 by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood).
SB 1716 would codify in statute the Supplemental Special Education Services (SSES) program launched by Abbott in October 2020. This program is strikingly similar to “education savings account” voucher models that have been consistently rejected by the Texas Legislature.
Under this program, the parents of students with special needs can apply for vouchers up to $1,500 to spend on supplemental educational services for their child. The governor’s program was funded using $30 million of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund, part of the CARES Act enacted by Congress last year in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
ATPE opposes SB 1716, in part, because existing laws provide for students to receive these special education services through the taxpayer-funded public education system. The federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) requires school districts to provide the services prescribed under each student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) at no charge to the student. It is essential that public schools receive adequate resources, such as money for extra staffing, to fulfill their responsibility under IDEA for all students with disabilities and those needing special education services. The SB 1716 voucher program would spend additional public funds to privately pay for the same type of services.
According to Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), 7,000 families have applied for and received awards under the current voucher program established by the governor. Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff testified that the program under SB 1716, if passed, would continue to be funded by the GEER fund, plus any other federal or state dollars that are made available for that purpose.
Special education advocates also oppose the bill. Steven Aleman with Disability Rights Texas, an organization representing parents of students with special needs, explained to committee members that GEER funding is only temporary, and it is questionable whether IDEA funds are even allowable for this use. Aleman emphasized the need to fully meet the state’s obligations toward special education students through providing adequate school district funding.
The Senate Education Committee also heard the following bills Tuesday:
- SB 215 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), which would create an office of inspector general appointed by the education commissioner and tasked with investigating "wrongdoing, waste, fraud, and abuse" by school districts, charters, or other local education agencies.
- SB 879 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville), which would change the qualifications for being designated a dropout recovery school.
- SB 980 by Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Burleson), which would require TEA to establish a suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention program for optional implementation at elementary schools. ATPE supports the bill.
- SB 1277 by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), which would amend the dual credit statute to require the participating school district or higher education institution to designate at least one employee responsible for providing academic advising to enrolled students before they begin a dual credit course.
- SB 1351 by Sen. Borris Miles (D-Houston), which would allow for the donation of food by public school campuses. ATPE supports the bill.
- SB 1955 by Chairman Taylor, which would allow parents to organize learning pods to home-school their children together.
- SB 2044 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio), which would establish a State Advisory Council on Educational Opportunity for Military Children.
- SB 2050 by Sen. Menendez, which would require (rather than permit) the removal of a student from class and alternative placement or expulsion if they are involved in certain types of bullying. ATPE supports the bill. The committee voted unanimously today to advance a committee substitute version of this bill to the full Senate.
The committee also voted today to advance the following bills it had previously heard:
- SB 27 (committee substitute) by Chairman Taylor, which would expand full-time virtual schools in Texas. ATPE opposed the bill when it was heard last Thursday. Sens. Menendez and Schwertner voted against the bill, and Sen. West registered a position of “present not voting.”
- SB 741 (committee substitute) by Sen Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), which specifies how school marshals may carry concealed handguns. Sens. Lucio, Menendez, Powell, and West voted against the bill.
- SB 776 (committee substitute) by Sen. Lucio, which would require UIL to create an adaptive sports program for students with disabilities.
- SB 2066 by Sen. Jose Menendez, which would change references in the Texas Education Code to “students of limited English proficiency” to “emergent bilingual students.”
- SB 2158 (committee substitute) by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), which would require TEA to provide at-home fingerprinting and DNA kits for optional use by parents of elementary school students in order to help locate missing children.
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