Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has offered to inject $500 million into the public school system if the Texas House agrees to implement a school choice program this session.
During a news conference on Wednesday to discuss his remaining priorities, Patrick said the Senate has made changes to House Bill 21, which now includes $200 million for the Foundation School Program (the main way the state funds public schools), $200 million for about 150 school districts that will lose so-called Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction funding in September, new facilities funding that fast-growth school districts have been asking for and facilities funding for charter schools for the first time.
Patrick also offered to agree with the House in delaying until 2019 the implementation of the A-F accountability system, which school districts have said is an unfair and vague way for the state to grade schools.
“All Education Chairman Dan Huberty has to do is concur with the bill we sent in, which will have all these elements, and take it for an up or down vote on the House floor,” Patrick said.
The catch is that HB 21 also contains a school choice program for special education students that Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, had slipped in last week. A majority of House members have made it clear they do not support school choice, an effort that would help students pay for private school tuition. Critics have said school choice is just another name for private school vouchers and would divert money from public schools.
Speaker of the House Joe Straus said Wednesday that the House has made its own efforts to provide more support for students with disabilities without using school choice. HB 23 would create a grant program to fund innovative services for students with autism at public schools, and the original version of HB 21 would provide more funding for students with dyslexia.
“The House made a sincere effort to start fixing our school finance system, but the Senate is trying to derail that effort at the eleventh hour,” Straus said in a news release. “The Senate is demanding that we provide far fewer resources for schools than the House approved and that we begin to subsidize private education.”
Huberty, R-Houston, said he was disappointed by Patrick’s remarks and that he hadn’t seen the newest changes to HB 21 by Wednesday afternoon. He said he is countering Patrick’s offer with different programs he believes will improve education for students with disabilities.
Part of the counter offer is for the Senate to consider HB 23, as well as giving facilities funding for charter schools for special education purposes and paying for after-school tutoring for special education students, possibly even for those who attend private school.
“I’ve been communicating with Chairman Taylor that I would have a counterproposal to him today, and as a result, unfortunately, I guess (Lt.) Gov. Patrick had a press conference laying out their position. I plan on going over and seeing him shortly with the counterproposal as I had promised him … that does not include a voucher,” Huberty said. “I am a parent of a special needs child. I understand more than anybody what these parents go through and what they need.”