Texas House Set to Make Anti-Voucher Play

Lawmakers in the Texas House will have a chance to draw a line in the sand over private school vouchers during the upcoming battle over the budget Tuesday.

Lawmakers in the Texas House will have a chance to draw a line in the sand over private school vouchers during the upcoming battle over the budget Tuesday.

An amendment filed by state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Corpus Christi, would ban the use of state dollars to fund private education for students in elementary through high schools, including through so-called tax credit scholarships. 

If passed, the measure — one of more than 350 budget amendments covering topics from border security to abortion up for House consideration — would deliver a blow to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

Patrick has thrown his weight behind getting some version of legislation through this session that would provide state financial support to parents who want to send their children to private schools. He has reserved a priority bill number — Senate Bill 4 — for the occasion. 

But it's a message senators shouldn't be surprised to receive from their colleagues across the rotunda.

If Herrero's amendment fails, it would represent a dramatic change in sentiment for the chamber, which overwhelmingly passed a similar budget amendment during the 2013 legislative session. Patrick, a Houston Republican who served as state senator before taking office as lieutenant governor in January, led that chamber's education panel at the time. 

Senate leaders have proposed two measures this session — which Patrick personally appeared before a Senate panel to defend last Thursday — aimed at giving more students the option to attend private schools.

SB 276, from state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, would provide parents with a portion of the average state funding school districts get per child to pay for private school. 

SB 642, from state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, sets up a tax credit for businesses that choose to help fund scholarships through a nonprofit organization so students can attend private schools. 

“Giving a handful of students an opportunity for a better school in a situation where they just don’t have choice is not going to impact public education,” Patrick told senators last Thursday. “We aren’t trying to upend the public school system."