The Texas Senate on Tuesday signed off on legislation that could let some low-income families move their kids from public school to private school — a bill that GOP leaders were quick to distance from school vouchers.
"This is not a voucher bill," state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said after the final vote. "It simply moves private money from entities and individuals to student scholarships."
Senate Bill 4, which would use state tax credits to entice up to $100 million in business donations to fund the public-to-private scholarship program, passed with an 18-12 vote. Two Republicans, Konni Burton of Colleyville and Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, cast votes against the measure while a single Democrat, Eddie Lucio of Brownsville, voted in favor of it.
Under the scholarship program, the only students who qualify are those who are special needs, or who have low-income parents and currently attend public schools with an enrollment of more than 100 in counties of more than 50,000 people. To participate, private schools would have to be accredited and administer a nationally recognized standardized exam annually.
During debate on the bill on Monday — when the measure came up for an initial vote — Democrats raised concerns over the plan, arguing that it diverted money that would otherwise go to public education to an unaccountable private school system.
Proponents of the bill insist that the legislation should not be considered a private school voucher program — a notion that has proved politically toxic in the Legislature.
But the measure is already facing opposition from education advocacy groups, which are calling the scholarship a voucher by another name.
"We have people who are pushing back against any type of innovations," Taylor said.
On Tuesday, the education advocacy group Raise Your Hand Texas launched an online video campaign linking tax credits to vouchers that the group says hurt Texas students.
The legislation now heads to the House.
Morgan Smith contributed reporting to this story.