AUSTIN — A bill creating a program to help fund private schools, raise teacher salaries and increase funding for public schools was introduced by a House panel Friday.
It was the first time in two decades that a voucher proposal had passed this hurdle.
The House has been the graveyard of bills such as this year’s House Bill 1 that would create education savings accounts, or ESAs, from which public funds could be used for private schools and other educational expenses.
The bill cleared the House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment 10-4.
Later Friday, the full House did not have a quorum. That rattled some conservatives who support the bill and fear late procedural moves could deprive them of victory.
However, the bill’s author, Rep. Brad Buckley, said he still expects the bill to arrive by the end of next week.
Asked whether school choice opponents in the House would try to remove ESAs from the measure, Buckley said he wasn’t sure.
“I expect anything. Anything and everything,” said Republican Salado, who leads the panel on educational opportunity and enrichment.
Gov. Greg Abbott, when asked about an amendment to eliminate the ESA, said that in the unlikely event the Senate agrees and sends him such a measure aimed solely at school funding, “I would just have to veto.”
“We would just do it again,” Abbott said after signing a bill passed in the third special session of the year that prohibits private employers from requiring workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We would spend December here, maybe January here, maybe February here. And I know one thing about the House and Senate. They want to get out of here. »
Buckley’s bill made it out of committee with only Democratic opposition. Democrats James Talarico and Gina Hinojosa, both of Austin; Harold Dutton of Houston; and Barbara Gervin-Hawkins of San Antonio voted against.
Four Republican members of the panel voted in April to prohibit any use of state money for projects such as ESAs. But on Friday, everyone supported Buckley’s bill.
They were Reps. Trent Ashby of Lufkin, Keith Bell of Forney, Ken King of Canadian and Gary VanDeaver of New Boston.
Some were expected to say they moved the bill forward so the full House could give its opinion on it.
That was House Democratic Caucus Chairman Trey Martinez Fischer’s explanation for the committee’s vote.
“Today’s vote reflects the desire of the entire House to have a final vote for or against the right element of this bill,” Martinez Fischer said in a statement.
During the fourth special session that began Tuesday, the Senate has already passed its version of an ESA bill.
If the two chambers reach an agreement and send something to Abbott, who is expected to sign it, Texas would become the 34th state to pass some sort of private school tuition subsidy and the 11th state to have what Professor Patrick Wolf of the University of Arkansas. calls for “universal school choice now or in the near future.”
Bills proposing vouchers, tax credit scholarships and ESAs died in the House in recent sessions after rural Democrats and Republicans joined forces in opposition. The last such school choice proposal to pass a House committee was from former Arlington GOP Rep. Kent Grusendorf in 2003.
Advancement of Buckley’s $7.6 billion school funding and ESA bill sparks dramatic debate in House.
The idea — an Abbott priority — is one reason the Republican governor insisted on calling lawmakers back to Austin.
Opponents of ESAs fear such a plan would divert money from public schools that serve the majority of Texas’ children to unaccountable private institutions. Many turned their fire on Abbott on Friday.
“Governor Abbott’s relentless attacks on public education are completely unacceptable, and we will never stop resisting his attempts to blatantly rob Texas children of their future,” said Rocío Fierro-Pérez, interim political director of the progressive group Texas Freedom Network, in a written statement. statement.
Ovidia Molina, president of the Texas State Teachers Association, said in a press release: “If the governor had wanted to pass a school finance bill to increase funding for public schools and increase salaries for educators, why didn’t he urge lawmakers to do so during this time? regular session earlier this year, when he and the Legislature ran a record $33 billion budget surplus? »
The ESA plan proposed in the House involves more money for public campuses. It is unclear whether this funding will sway staunch opponents. That hasn’t been enough in previous legislative sessions.
Austin correspondent Aarón Torres contributed to this report.
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