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The House Republican leading efforts on ”school choice” legislation submitted his version of a voucher proposal Thursday night, calling for boosts to public education in exchange for implementing a capped education savings account program.
House Bill 1 laid out a different approach than the Senate’s version, which was approved last week, that would award families $8,000 to use for private education.
The bill from Rep. Brad Buckley, R-Killeen, would give parents 75% of the average amount that each school receives in per-student state and local funding, allowing them to use that for private school tuition or some other approved expenses.
Gov. Greg Abbott has been pushing all year for a school voucher program, and his office indicated Friday that the new bill was insufficient. Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze said in a statement that Abbott spoke with House Speaker Dade Phelan on Friday morning and let him know the legislation “differs from what the Governor’s office had negotiated with the House’s leadership team selected by the Speaker.”
The House bill would also raise the state’s basic allotment — the base amount of money the state gives a district for each student it’s educating.
That amount, currently $6,160, has not increased since 2019. For the first year, school districts would receive a minor increase in the basic allotment, raising it to $6,190. In the second year, the allotment would increase by another $310.
The state provides other funding beyond the basic allotment, meaning the amount used to determine how much education savings account money parents are eligible would be higher. The state would be required to determine that number by Jan. 15 of each year.
To address calls to improve teacher compensation, educators would receive a one-time $4,000 bonus. Additionally, school districts would be required to spend 50% of the additional state funding, stemming from the allotment increases, on salaries for full-time employees, excluding administrators.
For now, Abbott has yet to add public school finance and teacher raises to the agenda and lawmakers can only pass his priorities during a special session. He called lawmakers back to Austin earlier this month to pass an education savings account program and said he would only add other public school priorities to the agenda after vouchers pass.
Eze, the Abbott spokesperson, said his conversation Friday morning with Phelan was “productive.” The two leaders agreed to continue working “on the agreed-upon principles of school choice until a deal is reached,” Eze said.
For the first year of Buckley’s educational savings account program, only 25,000 Texas students would be eligible in the 2024-25 school year. That number would increase by 25,000 students each successive year, until 2027 when the cap would be removed.
Students with disabilities from low-income families would be prioritized in Buckley’s legislation, though no specific limits were imposed on how many students from each income bracket can participate in the program — unlike the Senate’s version.
HB 1 includes funding for home-schoolers, though it is limited to $1,000.
Last Thursday, the Senate approved a bill by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, that would allow families to access nearly twice the amount of taxpayer money proposed in the House to pay for private schools and other educational expenses such as uniforms, textbooks, tutoring or transportation.
In Creighton’s bill, eligibility is open to nearly every Texas student, but if there are more applications than funds, the bill prioritizes low-income families through a tiered system.
Supporters of school voucher programs say public schools are not meeting the educational needs of some students. They say the state needs to step in to provide financial assistance to parents who want to pursue private and home schooling.
Critics say that when students leave public schools, districts lose money because state funding is tied to student attendance. They argue the money for educational savings accounts should be invested in public schools.
The House is home to more critics of education savings accounts. During the regular session, the Senate’s voucher bill — nearly identical to the version that passed the Senate on a largely party-line vote on Oct. 12 — died in the House, where Democrats and rural Republicans have historically opposed any form of vouchers.
HB 1 signals the beginning of negotiations between the two chambers on the subject, which remains a daunting task given the widening political gulf between the House and Senate.
As recently as last week, some House members said they planned to oppose legislation to create educational savings accounts, even if it comes at the cost of not sending more money to public schools or raising teacher salaries, another priority of public education advocates.
Still, HB 1 includes a plethora of provisions related to teacher preparation, teacher raises and shortages and changes to special education funding in an effort to make the chamber pass the legislation.
Under the bill, Texas would allocate funds to help school districts pay for more teacher residencies, programs that place would-be teachers in classrooms with mentors for about a year, teaching them how to do the job before hiring them as full-time educators the following year. Experts say this increases the effectiveness of a teacher and helps them stay in the profession longer.
Currently, if a district wants to host an aspiring teacher through a residency, it must come up with the money on its own to pay for that person’s salary. Under the bill, districts would receive between $22,000 and $42,000 to pay each teacher in the residency. This program is a response to the recommendations of a task force formed last year by Abbott after the pandemic exacerbated Texas’ teacher shortage.
The legislation would also expand the Teacher Incentive Allotment, a program that promises to pay teachers up to six-figure salaries if they meet certain performance requirements. About 13,000 teachers, or about 4% of the state’s educators, are currently part of the program.
HB 1 also makes it harder for the state to revoke a person’s teaching certificate when they break their teaching contracts.
Buckley’s bill also includes some money for school districts that are losing state funding because of property valuation disputes between local tax authorities and the state.
Maia Pandey and Patrick Svitek contributed to this story.