In a major victory for supporters of school choice, a bill to channel public funds to private schools has passed its first significant hurdle in the GOP-led Texas Legislature. The Senate Education Committee approved legislation on Tuesday, along party lines, to establish education savings accounts.
The bill’s central feature is a school voucher-like program that would provide families with $8,000 to pay for private school tuition, books, and other expenses, such as uniforms.
Despite opposition from conservatives, the eligibility requirements for the funds remain unchanged. Only students coming from public schools or beginning their education will have access to these funds. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, has made this bill a priority this session. Advocates of the program, including Governor Greg Abbott, argue that parents should have the financial resources to select the best schools for their children.
However, opponents of the bill continue to fight against it, claiming that such voucher initiatives often fall short of covering the true cost of private schools, which can refuse to accept certain students. Public school leaders are concerned that education savings accounts will take funds away from the schools that serve the vast majority of Texas’ more than 5 million students.
In Texas, a coalition of urban Democrats and rural Republicans, who agree on not wanting to channel state money away from public schools, have consistently defeated similar proposals. The current effort seeks to win over rural Republicans by including financial protection if they lose students to private schools. Nevertheless, several Republican legislators who represent rural Texas have expressed skepticism, citing transparency concerns about tax dollars.
Furthermore, the bill also includes provisions that align with conservative demands for expanded “parental rights” amid heated cultural debates surrounding how schools teach about race, gender, and sexuality. The night before the Senate committee’s vote, Governor Abbott rallied supporters in Denton in support of expanded school choice. He was joined by Mandy Drogin, a campaign director with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, who urged parents to contact their representatives to express their support for “universal education savings accounts and nothing less.”
In conclusion, the bill’s approval by the Senate Education Committee marks a significant milestone in the ongoing struggle over public and private school funding in Texas. The bill’s supporters and opponents will undoubtedly continue to engage in a fierce debate as the legislation proceeds to the full chamber for a vote.