Senate panel advances school finance, ‘private school choice’ bills


Public testimony on a bill that contains a private school scholarship provision lasted six hours.

Opponents said special education students would lose rights going to private schools.

Proponents said some special education students aren’t getting adequate services in public schools.

The Senate Education Committee on Friday sent to the full chamber two bills that address many of the major education-related issues on the special session agenda, including school finance and “private school choice.”

Senate Bill 2, filed by Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, drew eight hours of public testimony, much of which was in opposition because of a provision in the bill that critics have compared to private school vouchers.

“Do not use the backs of these very special children as a pawn for your political schemes,” said Kara DeRocha, a Houston resident whose child is in special education.

SB 2 passed 8-2, with Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville the only Democrat voting for it.

RELATED: Hundreds of Texas teachers rally against special session issues

Under the bill, public school students with disabilities wanting to enroll in private school can receive up to $10,000 in tax credit scholarships each year to help pay for tuition.

Public school students would receive some money under the bill, too — up to $500 in education assistance, increasing 5 percent each year, to pay for supplies, tutoring and child care among other expenses.

The tax credit scholarship and education assistance program would be funded by donations from insurance companies which would in turn receive tax credits, capped at $75 million per year.

Critics of the bill said on Friday the scholarships wouldn’t guarantee that students receive a better education because private schools don’t have to follow the same state accountability standards or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that public schools must follow. They also said that public schools should be funded adequately before passing such a bill.

Taylor said that scholarships would help about 6,000 students and the education assistance program would help 22,000 public school students.

“Most of the parents you talk to who have special needs kids are very happy with their public school system but there are some who have not had a positive experience and their child is not getting the most that they can get and those are the ones that we’re concerned with,” Taylor said.

READ: Senate health panel approves three abortion bills

Many private school officials spoke in favor of the bill, saying they monitor the progress of their students with disabilities, and test them and that the scholarships would cover tuition at their schools.

Some senators on the panel said parents should have the ultimate say in their children’s education and the bill actually injects more money into the public education system.

The bill would divert $270 million into public schools from Texas Health and Human Services through deferred payments to Medicaid. The money would go toward other outstanding education issues not addressed in the regular session that have been bundled into SB 2, including construction funding for charter schools and fast-growth school districts and a hardship grant program for about 200 school districts slated to lose an estimated $200 million in Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction.

Also on Friday, the committee unanimously approved SB 16 that would create a commission to study and make recommendations to improve the way the state funds public schools. The Texas Supreme Court last year ruled that the state’s school finance system was minimally constitutional and that the system could be vastly improved to make it more equitable for students.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Texas News & Politics

Police: 2 teens escape from Giddings detention facility
Police: 2 teens escape from Giddings detention facility

GIDDINGS Police: 2 teens escape from detention facility State and local officials in Lee County are searching for two juveniles who escaped a juvenile detention facility Saturday, and are asking the public to be on the lookout, according to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. Brice Ryan Karalis and Bryan Ernando Villanueva, both 16 years old, escaped...
Fire crews extinguish blaze at downtown Austin hi-rise, officials say
Fire crews extinguish blaze at downtown Austin hi-rise, officials say

Emergency crews have put out a fire at the AMLI on 2nd, a hi-rise building downtown, according to the Austin Fire Department. The fire was reported at about 1:50 p.m. at the 400 block of West Third Street. “[F]ire in trash compactor on first floor is under control,” the department said in a post on Twitter. “Working on final extinguishment...
Washington state man, 73, stuck in car for 12 hours after crash
Washington state man, 73, stuck in car for 12 hours after crash

Washington State troopers and firefighters rescued a 73-year-old man who spent about 12 hours stuck in his car after driving off the road near Tiger Mountain, police said Saturday. Eastside Fire officials said the man was in the car overnight, and that when crews arrived, he appeared to be OK. However, he was taken to the hospital for an evaluation...
Austin Answered: Does clothing recycling keep textiles from landfills?
Austin Answered: Does clothing recycling keep textiles from landfills?

When Simple Recycling’s curbside pickup program was introduced in 2016, speculations arose on how it would affect local nonprofits such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army. In June 2016, Austin approved a 36-month contract with Simple Recycling, an Ohio-based for-profit recycler intended to help Austin achieve its zero-waste goals. The company...
Who is Travis Reinking, the person of interest in the Waffle House shooting?
Who is Travis Reinking, the person of interest in the Waffle House shooting?

Travis Reinking is a 29-year-old man police are seeking in Sunday morning’s shooting at a Waffle House in Antioch, Tennessee. Police issued a murder warrant for Reinking late Sunday morning. Little information has been released by authorities about Reinking, who is from Morton, Illinois.  Police said Reinking sat in his truck in the Waffle...
More Stories