In the waning days of the 3rd Texas Legislative Special Session, it has become clear that Governor Greg Abbott does not have the votes needed to pass his far-reaching voucher program.
The lack of a working relationship between the Senate and the House has contributed to the failure of any form of voucher. The governor has shown little leadership during this special session and has resorted to blackmail and intimidation. Governor Abbott has vowed to support primary opponents against those elected lawmakers who oppose vouchers. What incentive do the members have to cooperate with the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor?
In anticipation of another special session likely starting November 8, House Public Education Committee Chair Brad Buckley (R-Salado) filed a committee substitute for HB 1 late Friday afternoon. The bill seeks to increase funding for public schools, create more incentives and support for teachers, and establish an education savings account (ESA) voucher program. HB 1 was already a very onerous voucher bill, and this substitute increases the problematic nature of state vouchers.
The voucher program would allocate up to $500 million for the next year of the biennium to an education savings account program worth $10,500 per student. The voucher would pay for private school tuition, higher education tuition including fees, instructional materials, tests, transportation, and tutors.
Homeschool children would be eligible for $1,000.
HB 1 prioritizes those students eligible for inclusion in the program. Any student in public school, private school, and homeschool in grades K-12 is eligible to apply and would be prioritized in the following order:
- Priority Group 1 – Children with a disability who are members of a household with a total annual income that is at or below 400% of the federal poverty limit.
- Priority Group 2 – Members of a household with a total annual income at or below 185% of the federal poverty limit.
- Priority Group 3 – Children who are members of a household with a total annual income above 185% and below 400% of the federal poverty limit.
- Priority Group 4 – Children who are members of a household with a total annual income at or above 400% of the federal poverty limit.
To appease members of the House, especially rural Republicans and teachers, the bill increases the basic allotment from $6,160 to $6,700 in 2024-25 and creates an inflationary adjustment starting in 2026-27. It would also increase the small- and mid-size allotment and the state compensatory education allotment intended for students at risk of dropping out.
Buckley, it seems, wants to woo teachers and school personnel by including provisions to boost pay for teachers from the original bill proposed earlier in the year by giving a bonus of $4,000 for full-time teachers, nurses, librarians, and counselors. It also offers a bonus of $2,000 for the same staff working part-time. Those bonuses would be converted into salary through increases in the basic allotment. The bill also creates a teacher residency program and seeks to increase the Teacher Incentive Allotment by between $3,000 at the lowest tiers and $36,000 for master teachers.
The bonuses could become an unfunded mandate, further hurting the budgets of most districts throughout the state.
There are other provisions in the bill that target items, including special education.
No hearing has been posted for the substitutes for HB 1, with little time as the session ends tomorrow, November 7. Stay tuned to see Governor Abbott’s next move.