The Senate Education Committee on Thursday approved a bill that would redirect state money to help students pay for private school tuition among other non-public educational expenses.
Senate Bill 3, which has emerged as one of the most divisive education measures so far this session, won the approval of seven senators in the committee — Eddie Lucio, Jr. of Brownsville was the only Democrat to vote in favor — while three senators — Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo; Royce West, D-Dallas; and Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio — voted against it.
Seliger told his colleagues that he was concerned that the bill would not hold private schools and other institutions that would benefit from the bill to the same accountability standards as public schools. He also said he was concerned that public money could go to support a Muslim private school that could teach anti-American principles.
“We must as Americans ardently defend their right do that. What we’re not obligated to do is spend public money on indoctrination and curriculum like that,” he said.
SB 3, which supporters have called the school choice bill and opponents have compared to private school vouchers, would create a system of so-called education savings accounts and tax credit scholarships.
Students leaving public school and kindergarten-aged children could use the savings accounts to pay for a variety of education services, including tuition for private schools, online courses and educational therapies. For those students who leave public school, SB 3 would redirect a portion of the per-student state money the school district receives to the savings accounts.
A family of four whose income is at least $90,000 would receive about $5,400 per year and a family who makes less than that would receive $6,800. Students with disabilities regardless of income would receive $8,200.
Low-income students could also qualify for tax credit scholarships to use toward private school tuition; businesses that donate to the scholarship fund would receive a tax credit — capped at $100 million per year — from the state.
State Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, who voted in favor, said that SB 3 would save the state money because public schools would be relieved of the student growth they’ve seen each year.
“Because we’re actually spending less money per child in this program, there would actually be more money per child in the public education system,” he said.
More than 100 people signed up to testify on the bill on Tuesday during a committee hearing that lasted more than nine hours.
Those who testified in favor included out-of-state policy experts who touted savings, parental oversight of private schools, and competition in public schools that other state school choice programs have created. Parents from Texas testified on how public schools failed their children and that they wanted more say in their children’s education. Private school officials touted their programs.
Those who testified against the bill included public school officials and their advocates and teacher union representatives who said SB 3 would strip money from cash-strapped schools and would not improve private school access or the academic performance of poor and minority children. At least one home schooling mom said she feared more state regulations.
“We are continuing to work on this bill … to make this a bill that we can pass,” committee chairman and author of SB 3 Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said on Thursday.