Texas House to Greg Abbott: You’re not the boss of me!

By Ashley Bean Thornton

Holy Cow!  This Texas school voucher business is getting to be quite the political spectacle!

Here is the show so far as I understand it:

  • Governor Greg Abbott is bound and determined to pass some kind of School Voucher/Educational Savings Account (ESA) bill.
  • The Texas Senate passed one in the regular session – The Texas House did support it.
  • The Texas Senate passed one in the first special session – The Texas House did not support it.
  • The Texas Senate passed one in the third special session – The Texas House did not support it.
  • The Texas Senate passed one in the fourth special session.
  • The Texas House took up a general education bill that included teacher pay raises and other teacher benefits, an increase to the basic per student allotment… and…in Article 6…an Education Savings Account plan. The House voted to strip out Article 6, and has now sent the whole thing back to committee.

So here we are.

Greg Abbott has said he is going to keep calling special sessions until he gets his way. The Texas House says they are not passing a voucher bill. Meanwhile, public schools are not getting a much-needed increase to the basic per student allotment and teachers are not getting a much-needed pay raise.

It reminds me of a little kid argument:

  • Greg Abbott to Texas House: “I’m bigger and stronger than you and I’m going to make you do what I say or I’m gonna beat you up!”
  • Texas House to Greg Abbot: “You’re not the boss of me! (Sticks out tongue.)”

So, who is winning in all this?  Certainly not Texas school kids. Certainly not Texas teachers.

I am not a believer in school vouchers, but I am a believer in the idea that when our representatives disagree, they need to work together to come up with something to move a situation forward.  That normally means both sides will have to give a little.

I watched part of the floor debate on the amendment to strip the vouchers out of the education bill.

The main arguments that stood out to me from the pro-voucher side were:

  1. It’s not fair for low-income students to be “trapped” in failing public schools. After all, rich people already have school choice.  They can just pay to go to a better school.  It’s the low-income students who are trapped. Some of the pro-voucher folks went so far to say that “this is the civil rights movement of the 21st
  2. Yes, we need to improve failing public schools, but that will take too long. What about the kids who are “trapped” right now in failing schools?  They deserve a chance at a good education.
  3. What about kids who have been victims of bullying or even sexual harassment – should they be forced to stay in the school where these traumatic things happened to them just because they are zoned for that school?

With those arguments in mind, and with an overall goal of improving public schools, I could make peace with a modified funding bill that includes:

  • A $10,000 per student per year voucher/ESA, available only to children from households with incomes within 250% of the federal poverty guidelines who are zoned to D or F-rated schools.
  • A sunset clause that stipulates the voucher program has to be studied and then re-considered at the end of 10-years to see if it is still needed.
  • An $8,000 per student basic allotment (currently the basic allotment is $6, 160)
  • A $200 a month raise for teachers.
  • Bonus points: Set up some kind of structured way to reward teachers for sharing their best teaching practices with other teachers.

I could even support setting up some kind of voucher fund available on a case-by-case basis for students who want to change schools due to bullying or harassment, and for whom no reasonable alternative public school is available.

In other words, I think there are compromises we could make to break up this playground fight and get about the business of supporting and improving student learning opportunities.

Of course, if it turns out the real reason the Governor is determined to have vouchers is because his donors want tax-payers to help them out with private school tuition so that their kids won’t have to go to a public school where they might accidentally have to get to know people who are different from them…well…then I think it’s time for a new Governor.

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  1. Carroll Fadal on November 20, 2023 at 11:41 am

    Totally agree with your last sentence. The issue your well thought out compromise fails to address is that private schools get to pick and choose whom they admit. There is no guarantee that a child receiving the voucher will be accepted by the private school. And if accepted, just how far will $10,000 go toward the school’s tuition. The private school my granddaughter attends costs $16,000 a year. If a family is impoverished enough to qualify for the voucher, chances are great that they couldn’t afford the difference without some scholarship help from the school.

    I’m pretty sure your last paragraph totally addresses Abbott’s continual push for vouchers. If I ever think he’s actually got children’s best interests at heart, I need simply remember that he wants immigrant children shoved into the Rio Grande or trapped in razor wire.

  2. Jane Comer on November 20, 2023 at 3:08 pm

    Ashley, thanks for your analysis of the situation in Austin with vouchers/ESAs. I would add to your comments by saying that there is already choice for most students as there are hundreds of open-enrollment (publically funded) charter schools in Texas, an already funded “choice.” Large urban districts usually allow cross district transfers. I know that is true in Austin ISD where I taught. Here is an additional “choice.” Moreover, the $10,500 ESA would not pay for most private schools; so therefore in addition to extra dollars for tuition, parents will have to find funds for lab fees, books or electronic iPads, uniforms and provide transportation to and from the school. Many private schools do not have programs for special education and according to the bill these private schools will not be held accountable for the outcomes of the students’ instruction. That’s tax payer money with no accountablity.

    Sadly, I fear your last paragraph is most accurate concerning our governor’s motives. Governor Abbott’s donors from West Texas with oil and gas money want “Christian” schools to be all that exists in Texas. I’m a firm believer in separation of church and state, and although religious schools do get some state and tax dollars for special instruction, I don’t think “Christian” schools need to replace our public schools.

  3. Margo Yeager on November 20, 2023 at 7:47 pm

    I agree with the comments above. The pro-voucher goal is to get the fees that people who can afford private schools spend reimbursed. Not to get new students into private schools. My concern is that he will continue to make it seem like the rural Republicans aren’t conservative enough and they will get replaced. And they for once are standing up for their constituents.

  4. Michael LiBassi on November 21, 2023 at 6:30 pm

    If the “Christian” schools are getting our tax dollars, that conflicts with separation of church and state. Okay, then it’s time to tax the church.

  5. Jim Newkham on November 22, 2023 at 2:35 pm

    I agree with you completely. We need more support for public schools not less.
    Any private school that receives state money should have to meet the same requirements as public schools. Thanks for your efforts here.

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