SENATE APPROVES SCHOOL CHOICE, FINANCE PACKAGE
(AUSTIN) — Parents could apply to receive up to $8,000 in state money to offset private education costs under a bill approved by the Senate late Thursday night. Members also gave approval to a bill that would put $5.2 billion more into public education in the upcoming biennium, including money to raise teacher pay across the state. Bill author and Education Committee chair Senator Brandon Creighton of Conroe said this sweeping legislation will empower parents and put record amounts of funding into state public education. “This bill is a transformative initiative to enrich the educational landscape of our state, creating education savings accounts for students that need options to be successful,” he said. “Children with their unique challenges, strengths, aspirations, and needs deserve an education tailored to their individual requirements as determined by their family.”
SB 1 would take $500 million in general revenue and create more than 60,000 education savings accounts worth $8,000 each. Parents could use these funds to help pay for private school tuition, pay for private tutors, uniforms, transportations, and other approved costs. Ninety percent of these slots are set aside for students from low and middle-class socioeconomic backgrounds or those with a disability; the last ten percent would be available to any parent in the state. Should demand outstrip available slots, ESAs will be assigned via lottery. The program will be administered by the office of Comptroller and money would go directly from these accounts to approved education providers. Creighton said the bill has additional and robust anti-fraud measures under strict state oversight, calling the bill’s provisions the most stringent of any program in the nation. The bill was amended by Lubbock Senator Charles Perry, who raised concerns that his small, rural districts feel the funding lost by even one student leaving. His amendment would grant each district with a student population less than 5,000 compensation of $10,000 for 3 years for each student that leaves public education because of the new ESA program.
SB 2, also by Creighton, allocates more than $5 billion in state funding to education, including a new “teacher retention allotment” that is equivalent to an across-the-board teacher pay increase of $3,000. Rural teachers, whose salaries, said Creighton, can lag their urban colleagues’ by tens of thousands of dollars would get an additional $7,000 through the new allotment. The bill also expands the teacher merit pay system, that allows districts to identify their best educators and pay them more, and would increase the basic allotment by $75. It would give schools more money for school safety, both on a per-student and per-campus basis. According to Senate Finance Chair and Houston Senator Joan Huffman, passage of this bill would mean a 30 percent total increase in state public education funding this session. “The commitment to public education is irrefutable,” Creighton responded.
While school finance isn’t on the special session call yet, Governor Greg Abbott has said once he is sent a school choice bill to sign into law, he will open the session agenda to public school funding legislation.
The Senate also approved three other bills on the special session agenda Thursday, all of which have previously passed the Senate at least once. They are:
- SB 7, by Galveston Senator Mayes Middleton, which would ban private employers from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of employment.
- SB 4, by Pleasanton Senator Pete Flores, which would increase penalties for human trafficking along the border.
- SB 11, by Granbury Senator Brian Birdwell, which would create a new state trespassing offense for entering the country illegally from a foreign country and permit peace officers to arrest those they see breaking this law.