Texas House Strikes Down Voucher-Like Legislation Defying Governor Greg Abbott's Wishes

Governor Greg Abbott appears to fail again in passing his priority of "school choice," after a voucher-like program died in the House on Friday.
Governor Greg Abbott appears to fail again in passing his priority of "school choice," after a voucher-like program died in the House on Friday.
House Democrats and nearly two dozen mostly rural Republicans successfully stripped legislation of a voucher-like program that would’ve allowed families to put taxpayer dollars toward private school tuition and related expenses.

Representative John Raney (R-College Station) introduced an amendment that called to quash Article 6, the portion of the bill that established these education savings accounts – a move expected by those who supported HB 1 as it stood.

After a back-and-forth between Texas lawmakers both for and against Raney’s amendment, it passed on an 84 to 63 vote, with all Democrats for it and four of the rural Republicans flipping their previous stance to strike the amendment down.

Among this group was David Spiller (R-Jacksboro), Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa) and Angelia Orr (R-Itasca).

Friday’s vote marked yet another time a measure that established these education savings accounts failed to pass after similar bills during the regular and third special sessions lacked the support to become law.

House Bill 1 now stands solely as a public school funding proposal, as it fused items such as increasing the per-student basic allotment by more than $500, giving teachers and other district staff one-time bonuses, and upping funds for special education and charter schools with the voucher-like program.

The Senate’s previous attempts to create education savings accounts earlier in this special session and before kept the two separate.

Although the public school funding components of HB 1 are still intact, Representative Brad Buckley (R-Killeen), who authored the bill, reminded his fellow lawmakers during the debate that this may not continue to be the case.

“Quite frankly, as you know, if you support this amendment, it goes from not being an either-or, and it becomes a none-of-it bill,” Buckley said. “There are no ESAs, and the reality is the school finance piece will not be long.”

Governor Greg Abbott has long said he would be unwilling to support public school funding without his priority of “school choice” passing in both chambers. Abbott echoed this sentiment this week when he said he would reject any House proposal that excluded a voucher-like program.

He added that legislators should be prepared for special sessions through the new year if legislation setting up education savings accounts does not pass this special session.

Friday was the first time in recent years that the House considered legislation that would’ve established a voucher-like program, as past proposals failed to gain much traction, particularly in the House amid strongly held bipartisan opposition to them.

Lawmakers who supported passing the version of House Bill 1 that included ESAs attempted to sway those against it by adding public school funding concessions to try and avoid the proposal stalling out as in past sessions.

However, most critics of the bill stood steadfast in their stance against HB 1, despite some of them also having approved sending the bill out of committee last week. Among those who voted for the measure to head to the full House were VanDeaver and King.

Although VanDeaver and King voted to support the proposal’s advancement, they said they would not approve its passage in the House – statements that each stood true to on Friday.

Before Friday’s vote, those against the previous version of House Bill 1 argued that the money needed to fund the bill, roughly $7.6 billion with increases to this total each year, could instead be going solely toward already underfunded public schools.

They added that the $10,500 distributed through the voucher-like program would likely only cover a dip in the bucket of most private and parochial schools’ tuitions for lower-income families.

Critics were also concerned that, despite its aim to prioritize children from these households and others with disabilities, it wouldn’t because the proposal made this money accessible to every kid contingent on available funds.

Lawmakers that support ESAs and “school choice” advocates said that the state should allow parents to choose where their children attend school and provide them with assistance to have the ability to do so.

Before the House gaveled out, Buckley referred HB 1 back to the House Select Committee on Educational Enrichment and Opportunity. House Speaker Dade Phelan then called for the chamber to adjourn until early next week.

Abbott's statement on Friday's vote:

“Today’s vote is just another step on the path to provide school choice for parents and students across Texas. I will continue advancing school choice in the Texas Legislature and at the ballot box, and will maintain the fight for parent empowerment until all parents can choose the best education path for their child. I am in it to win it.”

The vast majority of Texans — and Republicans in the Texas House — support school choice. The small minority of pro-union Republicans in the Texas House who voted with Democrats will not derail the outcome that their voters demand.”

This story will be updated as needed.