You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myStatesman.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myStatesman.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myStatesman.com.

Senate passes ‘private school voucher’ bill after last-minute changes


Highlights

Three Republicans and one Democrat broke from party lines during Thursday’s vote on Senate Bill 3.

The bill now goes to the House where school choice hasn’t been a priority.

The bill scales back the eligibility of students to participate in the programs that SB 3 would establish.

After last-minute changes to scale back the measure, the Texas Senate passed a bill 18-13 on Thursday that would redirect state money to help low-income students and students with disabilities pay for private school tuition, among other non-public school expenses.

Senate Bill 3, which has emerged as one of the most divisive education measures this session, underwent major changes over the last few days as the author of the bill state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, tried to gather sufficient votes to pass it. More changes were presented to senators on Thursday, just hours before they considered the bill.

State Sens. Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, Kel Seliger of Amarillo, and Joan Huffman of Houston were the only Republicans who voted against the bill while Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville was the only Democrat to vote for it.

“There are just some students, for whatever reason, they’re not getting what they need and their parents recognize it,” Taylor said during the debate on Thursday. “This is actually empowering them.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has made expanding school choice a priority this session, said that the bill would provide relief for students stuck in failing public schools.

“Making sure that every child has the opportunity to attend the school their parents believe is best for them is something the people of Texas elected us to do,” Patrick said in a statement.

Other lawmakers grilled Taylor on the lack of accountability under the bill. State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said that private school students aren’t required to take the same type of state standardized tests as those in public schools; under SB 3, the public won’t know whether their tax dollars are resulting in better student performance, he said.

“If the public doesn’t exactly know how those students are performing … how can we know whether or not this experiment … is actually working?” he said.

Seliger also said that he feared that state money could go to support private schools that taught anti-American principles.

Taylor responded that the bill would require private schools to undergo a rigorous accreditation process that should weed out such types of instruction.

READ: Report: Bill could cut $86 million from Central Texas school districts

The latest changes to SB 3 would limit the eligibility requirements of students and appear to address concerns of lawmakers from rural areas where few private schools exist.

Students who live in counties with fewer than 285,000 people would no longer be eligible for state money through so-called savings accounts or tax credit scholarships unless residents vote in an election to approve eligibility. Education savings accounts would also no longer cover home schooling expenses; this comes as some home-schooling parents have opposed SB 3 because they feared falling under state regulations.

Other changes include:

• Limiting eligibility for savings accounts to low-income students.

• Reducing the annual cap for the tax credit scholarship from $100 million to $25 million.

• Limiting eligibility to students who attended a Texas public school for one year prior.

For a family of four making less than $78,000 per year, a student could receive $6,800 per year. The bill would still allow students with disabilities regardless of income to receive about $8,200 per year.

Taylor choked up while he discussed the special education provision Thursday. “These special needs kids have a purpose,” he said.

He said by narrowing the eligibility, the bill’s cost would be far less than the $330 million price tag of the original bill.

But according to an analysis from the liberal think tank Center for Public Policy Priorities, public schools statewide would lose $173 million if 1 percent of students leave to accept a savings account or scholarship.

“Instead of shifting our tax dollars to private school tuition, the Legislature should remodel our outdated school finance system,” said the center’s executive director, Ann Beeson.

The bill will now be considered by the House, where leaders haven’t made school choice a priority.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Texas News & Politics

Austin kidnap suspect foiled by Facebook, caught at Iron Maiden show
Austin kidnap suspect foiled by Facebook, caught at Iron Maiden show

If you’re going to listen to Iron Maiden’s advice and “Run to the Hills” to avoid police, just don’t post it on Facebook. An Austin man who was wanted by police on a kidnapping charge got caught by the Bexar County sheriff’s office Saturday at an Iron Maiden concert in San Antonio after a friend of his posted images...
Attorney asks for change of venue in Crispin Harmel murder retrial

WILLIAMSON COUNTY Change of venue asked in murder retrial An attorney for a man accused of killing a woman in Cedar Park has asked for a change of venue for his second trial after the first ended in a mistrial. Crispin Harmel’s attorney, Kristen Jernigan, asked Wednesday for the new trial to be moved out of Williamson County because of the publicity...
Pastor arrested in SB 4 protest says he couldn’t stand on the sidelines
Pastor arrested in SB 4 protest says he couldn’t stand on the sidelines

Sharing a wooden bench at the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center with criminal defendants in ball caps, shorts and ankle monitors was another defendant in a clerical collar. The Rev. Jim Rigby, pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church of Austin, normally spends Monday mornings in planning meetings at the church, where he has worked for...
Monk parakeet nest sparks North Austin pole fire, cuts power to 3,200
Monk parakeet nest sparks North Austin pole fire, cuts power to 3,200

More than 3,000 Austin Energy customers were left in the dark Monday morning after a monk parakeet nest sitting on top of a utility pole sparked a fire in North Austin. Austin Energy spokeswoman Jennifer Herber said the fire began around 5 a.m. and left a large area of North Austin — stretching east to west from Lamar Boulevard to MoPac Boulevard...
SB 4 court hearing brings hundreds of protesters to San Antonio
SB 4 court hearing brings hundreds of protesters to San Antonio

As lawyers argued for and against a state ban on “sanctuary cities” inside a federal courtroom in San Antonio on Monday, about 600 immigrant rights advocates rallied nearby in protest of the law. The protesters are concerned that the law will lead to increased racial profiling and to families being torn apart as a result of deportation...
More Stories