Four Big Differences that make the House Version of “Vouchers” more tolerable than the Senate Version

By Ashley Bean Thornton

I am not a fan of school voucher programs or Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), but our governor has said he will basically hold teacher pay raises and funds for other public school improvements hostage until a voucher bill is passed.  So, it feels like some kind of “voucher-like” program is inevitable.

Yesterday (October 19), Brad Buckley, the Chair of the Public Education Committee of The Texas House of Representatives filed HB1, which is a House Education Bill. It includes plans for increasing the basic allotment a bit, increasing teacher pay a bit, building a teacher residency program, providing free pre-k for the children of teachers, and several other education-related ideas.

It also includes a far more palatable version of an ESA program than that offered by the Texas Senate (SB1).

Here are some of the important differences…

Limits on enrollment and duration of program – The Buckley version limits enrollment in the program to 25,000 students the first year, with the possibility of adding 25,000 per year for the next two years.  Also, the program would “sunset” in September of 2027 unless reauthorized.  If the program ends, participating students would be allowed to continue receiving the funds until they are no longer eligible for the program – for example if they graduate or return to regular public schools.

Adjustment to the amount a participant could receive – In the Senate version, a student leaving public school to attend an “approved educational provider” could receive up to $8,000 annually.  In the Buckley version that student could receive up to 75% of the amount the public school would have received for that student.  Based on the current basic allotment per student of $6,160, that would be $4,619.  the amount would be prorated based on the day the student enrolls in the ESA program.

Comparable Assessment & Accountability – In the Senate version, participating private schools must administer a “nationally norm-referenced assessment instrument annually.”  In the Buckley version, students participating in the ESA program must take the same annual assessments they would have taken in the public school.  The Education Service Centers will administer the assessments if the private school does not want to do so.   Also, according to the Buckley bill, a child returning to the public school may not be considered in evaluating that public school for the first year after he/she returns.

Funding that hopefully will not take as much from Public Schools – The Senate bill says the program will be paid for by a fund set up by the comptroller which may include:

    • general revenue transferred to the fund;
    • money appropriated to the fund;
    • gifts, grants, and donations; and
    • any other money available for purposes of the program.

The Buckley bill omits “general revenue transferred to the fund” and specifically states that “The governor and the Legislative Budget Board may not transfer or repurpose money under a proposal under Chapter 317, Government Code, to provide funding to administer the program.”    This is the code that includes the foundation school funding.   I will freely admit that I don’t understand all the legalities around school funding, but it sounds to me like the bill is making sure we will not take money from away from public schools to pay for this ESA program.

I do not think Vouchers or ESAs are the right way forward for Texas schools.  I do not believe they will really help the children who need help the most, and I think they will result in even more of the destructive re-segregation of schools than we are already experiencing.

That said, I understand why people are concerned about the quality of education being offered in some of our public schools.   And, I understand that some people like the idea of the “choice” they believe vouchers/ESAs will provide.

I think this education bill does a pretty good job of offering a reasonable way to experiment with a voucher/ESA program.

I don’t like the voucher idea, but I think this bill represents how our government is supposed to work – people with differing ideas haggling out a decent compromise.  Both “sides” have to give a little to come up with something we can all live with, something that will hopefully also move us forward a bit.  I think this bill demonstrates a little bit of wisdom in finding a workable middle path on vouchers.  I hope our governor and our senators exercise similar wisdom in accepting the modifications in this version so we can get on with paying teachers and doing some of the other things we need to do to educate our kids.

1 Comment

  1. on October 20, 2023 at 1:03 pm

    I was up half the night reading this bill. It is an insult to our kids and our teachers. Stay tuned for further details!

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