PolitiFact: School voucher bills are nothing new for Texas Legislature


Near the start of this year’s legislative session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick stood on the Capitol’s steps and exhorted lawmakers in the House and Senate to vote on “school choice” legislation, saying it’s “easy to kill a bill when no one gets to vote on it.”

An advocacy group opposed to using public money to support students going to private and religious schools urged a different course. In a press release, the Coalition for Public Schools, which says it represents religious, child advocacy and education organizations, urged the Legislature to “focus its efforts on providing support for our neighborhood public schools instead of funneling public tax dollars to (private school) voucher schemes with little or no accountability for how our tax dollars are spent.”

The eight-paragraph release closed with a historical claim: “Texas legislators have filed voucher proposals in every legislative session since 1995, but all of them have failed to become law.”

That’d be a big 0 for 11 for voucher proponents because state lawmakers convene in regular session every odd-numbered year.

We decided to check the record.

Wondering how the coalition reached its conclusion, we contacted a member, the Texas Freedom Network, which emailed us a web link to a 2007 network report including an appendix listing Texas “voucher legislation” dating to 1993.

We paused to cover some definitions. Huriya Jabbar, a University of Texas professor of education administration who has studied school choice and the political dimensions of education reforms, told us that “school choice” can include access to charter schools or the option to transfer to a different public school. Meanwhile, “private school choice” involves the use of public funds for private or parochial education.

Asked about defining school vouchers alone, Jabbar pointed us to a 2015 article in Education Week, which said vouchers give parents “public funding allocated for their child toward tuition at a private school of their choice, including religiously affiliated private schools.”

Education savings accounts, similar to vouchers, can also pay for private tuition, the story says, though money in an account could be put toward out-of-class educational expenses such as tutoring or online enrichment. States that support such accounts set aside money based on per-pupil funding estimates; parents may withdraw money for approved expenses, the story says.

In Texas in 2017, state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, filed Senate Bill 3 proposing education savings accounts for students from families at all income levels plus scholarships for students with the “greatest financial and academic need,” Taylor’s measure states, to be supported by tax credits.

Next, let’s review what we spotted in legislation considered beginning with the 1995 session, which we based on text searches of the Texas Legislative Service website Telicon and the Texas Legislature online, which is managed by the Texas Legislative Council, session by session, coming up with 29 proposed bills related to school choice with funding in the form of vouchers, scholarships or savings accounts.

We then checked each of the bills in the Coalition for Public Schools’ list in both services, to account for any that our search might have missed. We found 54 relevant bills, spanning every legislative session from 1995 onward.

A form of public school choice, short of private school vouchers, passed into law in 1995, when lawmakers created the Public Education Grant program. It was open to students in any school where at least half them didn’t perform satisfactorily on state tests the three previous years or those in a school that was declared “low performing” by the state during those years, according to a 1997 House Research Organization summary. Under the law, each eligible student could attend a school in another district backed by the state and local funding provided for their education in their original district.

In 1997, lawmakers widened such opportunities via House Bill 318, authorizing the state to fund up to 100 “open-enrollment charter schools,” which students could attend with the grants, and otherwise allowing eligible students to apply a grant to attend another school in their home districts. Among other tweaks, a student would newly be eligible if half or more of a school’s students performed unsatisfactorily in any two of the three previous years.

Our ruling:

The coalition said: “Texas legislators have filed voucher proposals in every legislative session since 1995, but all of them have failed to become law.”

All told, we identified 54 failed bills, at least one in each of the 11 regular sessions from 1995 through 2015, that proposed the use of public funds for private school tuition, though not every one was a pure voucher proposal.

We rate this statement True.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Texas News & Politics

Judge says kidnapped sisters should stay in foster home for now
Judge says kidnapped sisters should stay in foster home for now

A Williamson County judge on Tuesday determined that two sisters safely recovered in Colorado after being kidnapped will remain in foster care while screenings are being done on relatives who have expressed interest in raising them. Lilianais Victoria Griffith, 14, and Luluvioletta Bandera-Margret, 8, were abducted from their Round Rock home where...
TEXAS DIGEST: Suspect on Texas 10 Most Wanted list caught

PUBLIC SAFETY Suspect on Texas 10 Most Wanted list caught A suspect on the Texas 10 Most Wanted list has been caught in California after months on the run. The Texas Department of Public Safety on Tuesday announced the arrest of 32-year-old Blake Everett Reed. A DPS statement says Reed was captured Sunday at a home in Cayucos, Calif. Investigators...
Trump names Austin lawyer Alan Albright to federal bench

President Donald Trump on Tuesday nominated Austin lawyer Alan Albright to be a federal district judge in Waco. Albright, 58, specializes in intellectual property litigation as a partner in the Bracewell law firm and served as a U.S. magistrate judge in Austin from 1992-99. Albright also is a former adjunct professor who taught trial advocacy at the...
Police: Teen claims ‘fatal attraction’ before stabbing woman in face
Police: Teen claims ‘fatal attraction’ before stabbing woman in face

Austin police issued a warrant Tuesday for a 17-year-old woman who reportedly broke into a man’s East Austin home and maimed his girlfriend. The man told police he awoke to “loud commotion” on Jan. 13 and saw Taneese Mackey in his bedroom. Mackey and the man’s girlfriend argued and wrestled before Mackey stabbed her in the face...
Manor police: Suspected drunken driver drove van with kids off bridge
Manor police: Suspected drunken driver drove van with kids off bridge

Manor police say a suspected drunken driver drove a minivan carrying his wife and three children off a 50-foot bridge and into a creek on Saturday night. Desire Lukusa, 41, faces charges of child endangerment and driving while intoxicated, according to Manor police. An arrest affidavit filed Sunday says officers received reports about 10:30 p.m. of...
More Stories