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Dewhurst, Patrick to Unveil School Reform Bill

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, on Wednesday will unveil education reform legislation that some expect to reignite a fiery debate over the potential use of school vouchers in Texas.

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Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and state Sen. Dan Patrick on Wednesday at an Austin parochial school will reveal education legislation that some expect will spark a major battle of the upcoming legislative session.

Patrick, a Houston Republican and education committee chairman, has declined to discuss details of the proposal in advance of the announcement. He told The Texas Tribune in October that he envisioned a broad school choice bill and left open the possibility of private school vouchers, including for religious schools like the one where the news conference will be held.

"When we talk about choice today, it's the choice to choose schools within a district, potentially across district lines. It's charter schools. It's virtual schools. It's online learning. It's the secular and religious schools in the private sector," he said.

Dewhurst, who recently appointed Patrick to lead the education committee, said during the National Republican Convention in August that he would work with the senator to expand school choice in Texas.

“I personally don’t have any problem with a program in which children’s parents receive a payment from the state and are able to select which school that they go to,” Dewhurst said at the time. He added, “I’m willing to look at more choice for more parents. It’s early, too early, to talk about what form that may take, whether it could be payments, whether it could be tax credits, whether it could be more charters schools."

School choice is supported by Gov. Rick Perry and Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams, though the latter has said he will not advocate for it in his role leading the state education agency. If the legislation filed Wednesday includes a plan to allow parents to use public money to send their children to private schools, it will likely encounter major opposition from every education association in the state.

Proponents argue that competition fostered by opening up state education money to the private sector will improve all public schools. But the policy has struggled to gain the support of lawmakers, including Republicans, in the past because of questions about how effective that competition would actually be without a level-playing field between private and public schools. Critics also are concerned about how state accountability measures would apply to private schools that accept state funds, and whether families could afford transportation and tuition costs in addition to state vouchers. 

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