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After Huberty's comments, school choice advocates lobby state Republican Party

House Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty's comments about school choice legislation being a "dead" issue this legislative session have angered Texas supporters of the voucher-like programs.

State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble, chairman of the House Education Committee, at at Texas Tribune event on Feb. 28, 2017.

*Correction appended

School choice activists are lobbying the Republican Party of Texas to "censure" a top House lawmaker's opposition to granting Texas families subsidies to fund private school tuition for their kids.

A draft resolution submitted to the State Republican Executive Committee (SREC) on Thursday morning criticizes House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, for that position — and for remarks he made at a Texas Tribune event on Tuesday. In those remarks, Huberty said he thought school choice legislation being proposed in the Senate would go nowhere this legislative session, despite being a top priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Huberty could not immediately be reached for comment.

While there's no assurance the resolution will come up at this weekend's SREC meeting in Austin, vouchers have been a fiery topic for the party.  

The proposed SREC resolution, lodged by the Kingwood Tea Party in Huberty's district, suggests Huberty’s position on school choice is “antithetical” to views expressed by the leadership of the Republican Party and that his role as education chairman gives him the power to prevent the legislation from ever being voted on in the House. 

In Huberty's Tuesday interview, Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith asked him, "Yes, this is dead to you as an issue?" 

"I believe so, yes," Huberty responded.

After Smith asked whether Huberty would “kill” the bill so “it never gets out of committee,” Huberty mused that measure might not even come to him.

“Well, in the current form that it is, I think if you look at it, I don’t know where they’re going to get the votes for it to get it out of the Senate," he said. "Originally, there were some ideas about it, and they’ve added a bunch of things to it. I don’t even know if it comes to us.”

School choice is an issue that divides Republicans; battle lines are often drawn more along rural-urban lines than party lines. Last session, the House did not take up the leading private school choice bill for a vote. In the past couple of months, Patrick has called on the House to at least take a vote on this session's Senate Bill 3, which would create two public programs subsidizing families' private school tuition and homeschooling expenses.

"We want a vote up or down in the Senate and in the House this session on school choice. It's easy to kill a bill when no one gets to vote on it," he said at January's "National School Choice Week" rally.

On a talk radio show Monday, Patrick said the school choice bill would have the 76 votes needed to pass in the House if it made it out of committee.

Smith asked Huberty on Tuesday to weigh in on Patrick's comments: "Do you believe you can get the 76 in the House on the floor if you let this go out of committee?"

"Your responsibility as chairman is to protect your membership," Huberty replied.

When Smith asked what Huberty was protecting them from, Huberty said, "We've had a vote count over many sessions about where these numbers lie. I look at the committee and I know where the membership is on this particular issue and where we stand. Why don't we focus on the things that we can do?"

Brendan Steinhauser, an advocate for private school choice, said Huberty "really struck a hornets' nest with his comments."

Steinhauser said giving the legislation a fair hearing and bringing it up for a vote in committee is Huberty's job.

“He may have given up on school choice and on us, but we haven’t given up on him," Steinhauser said, adding that grassroots pro-school choice organizations are now more motivated to organize. He said they have already called thousands of Huberty's constituents and plan to knock on 1,000 doors in his district in the coming days. 

The heat continued Wednesday, with one group calling for Huberty to resign his chairmanship.

"He is placing the interest of the legislators above the people of the State of Texas," said Allan Parker, president of the Justice Foundation, a conservative-leaning public-interest litigation firm. "It's a hard vote when constituencies conflict and he is protecting the members of the Legislature."

Sanya Mansoor contributed to this report.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed comments to Randan Steinhauser. The comments were made by Brendan Steinhauser.

Read related Tribune stories here:

  • Lawmakers rarely get blamed for votes that never take place, and that's the basis for one of the oldest protection rackets in the legislative toolkit: Killing a controversial bill before it comes to the full House or Senate.
  • State Rep. Dan Huberty, a Houston Republican and chairman of the House Public Education Committee, said Tuesday morning that school choice legislation has no path forward in the House during the current legislative session.

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