What is actually in SB 8: Education Savings Account Program?

By Ashley Bean Thornton

(Note: The pronoun “she” is used throughout this post for ease of readability.)

Here is the link to the text of Senate Bill 8 (SB 8) as passed by the Texas Senate on May 15, 2023: 88(R) SB 8 – Engrossed version (texas.gov).  The bill is currently pending in the House Public Education committee. It must be approved by that committee before it can be considered by the full house.  The House has offered a different version/some amendments to this bill – but evidently Governor Abbot does not like those proposed changes and, according to the Texas Tribune at least, is likely to veto that version if it is passed.

What follows is my paraphrase of the gist of the information in Article 2 of the senate version – the article having to do with the proposed “Education Savings Account” (ESA) program – commonly referred to as “school vouchers.”   I do not claim in any way to be an expert in “Legal-ese” – so if you understand this better than I do, please do not hesitate to offer corrections in the comments!  Thank you! – ABT

5.21.23 update: The deadline has passed for this bill to move out of committee and be considered on the house floor, so it is more than likely dead for this legislative session.  Governor Abbott has indicated he would very possibly call a special session to continue working on this issue.  So…we’ll see.  – ABT

Where would the money come from?

The Comptroller will establish a program fund composed of: (1) general revenue transferred to the fund; (2) money appropriated to the fund; (3) gifts, grants, and donations, and (4) any other money available for purposes of the program.

Payments to eligible participants may not be financed using federal money or money from the available school fund or instructional materials fund.

How would the program be administered?  

The Comptroller may certify up to five educational assistance organizations that will administer the program. Parents interested in having their children participate in the program would apply to one of these Certified Educational Assistance Organizations. Money would be distributed to participants via these Educational Assistance Organizations.

Who would be eligible to receive an ESA:

Subject to availability of funding, generally a child would be eligible to participate in the ESA program if she is…

  1. Enrolling in pre-kindergarten or kindergarten for the first time.
  2. Is eligible to attend a public school in Texas, and she attended a public school for at least 90% of the previous school year.
  3. Subject to available funding, a student who is a member of a household with a total income at or below 200% of the federal poverty guideline may be able to participate even if she attended a private school full-time the previous year. Only 10% of the available slots may be used for this exception.  The educational assistance organizations will do their best to make sure the students taking advantage of this exception are equally divided among each region of the state.

An eligible child would be allowed to participate until she either (1) graduates from High School, (2) is no longer eligible to attend public school in Texas, (3) enrolls in a school where she is counted toward that school’s average daily attendance. (Children of state representatives or senators would not be allowed to participate.)

Who is prioritized for participation?

If there is insufficient money to fund all applicants, up to two-thirds of the available slots can be prioritized for students who would otherwise be attending a school with an overall rating on the state accountability system of C, D, or F.  The remaining slots can be filled with students who would be attending an A or B-rated campus.  Other than that, the priority is first come, first served.

Parents must agree to…

  • Spend the money only for allowed expenses,
  • Share the results of their child’s assessments with the educational assistance organization,
  • Not sell any items purchased with program money,
  • Let the educational assistance organization know within 30 days if their child is no longer eligible for the program (for example because she graduated or enrolled in a public school).

Examples of possible approved educational providers include…

  • Private schools that (a) are accredited by TEA or by an organization approved by the Texas Private School Accreditation Commission, and (b) administer a nationally norm-referenced assessment annually.
  • Public schools that are accredited by TEA and who provide services to the student without counting that student toward their average daily attendance,
  • A qualified private tutor, therapist or teaching service (subject to criminal background check),
  • A higher education provider.

Examples of possible approved educational expenses include…

  • Tuition and fees for a private school,
  • Purchase of textbooks, uniforms, other materials required by the private school,
  • Costs related to academic assessments,
  • Fees for services of a private tutor or teaching service,
  • Fees for transportation to and from educational activities,
  • Fees for educational therapies or services if not already covered by a government benefit such as CHIP or Medicaid or by the student’s regular insurance.

Money may not be used to pay any person related to the participant.

How much money would each participant receive?

$8,000 per year.  These payments will not be considered taxable income, unless required by federal law.

Payment to districts of less than 20,000 students

School districts with enrollments of less than 20,000 students will receive $10,000 for the first 5 years during which a child from the district participates in the program.  (This seems super weird.  I’m not sure I am understanding it correctly. – ABT)

To what extent will providers be required to follow rules and provide services like public schools?

These providers will not be considered agents of the state government.  The government may not…

  • Impose requirements that are contrary to the religious or institutional values of the provider;
  • Determine methods of instruction or curriculum;
  • Determine admissions or enrollment practices, policies, or standards;
  • Modify operations, conduct, policies, standards, assessments, or employment practices that are based on the provider ’s religious or institutional values.

The provider must comply with confidentiality requirements and may not sell information about the students.



  1. Mary Mann on May 21, 2023 at 8:35 am

    SB 8 to me is a bureaucratic boondoggle. I admit I am already anti vouchers— the correct name for ESAs, still the accounting for this is unbelievable. Until, that is, you get to the private schools’ being held accountable for spending, curriculum and instruction of the children.

  2. […] for Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), one of the currently popular varieties of school choice. (Here’s a link to my explanation of what was included in the SB 8.)  The Texas House did not pass it, so it has not become […]

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