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Texas Senate passes voucher bill

March 31, 2017

 

A modified version of the school choice/voucher bill, Senate Bill 3, with narrower eligibility requirements than those included in previous versions of the bill, passed out of the Texas Senate on Thursday with a final vote of 18-13. 

 

SB 3, authored by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), relates to the establishment of an education savings account program and a tax credit scholarship and educational expense assistance program to be used for educational software, tutoring and tuition at accredited private schools.

 

RELATED: School choice bill advancing to full Senate... or is it?

 

Taylor said Thursday he would expect between 35,000 and 70,000 students to participate in the programs created by the substitute bill, which now limits eligibility to residents of the 17 most populous counties in Texas.

 

The Texas Association of School Administrators outlined provisions of the floor substitute for SB 3:
 

EDUCATION SAVINGS ACCOUNT PROGRAM — Administered by the comptroller, the program would be funded out of general revenue and provide parents with funds to pay for education needs of their child, including:

  • private school tuition (at accredited private schools), or

  • online course/school, or

  • education assistance (tutor/tutoring service), or

  • computer hardware/software (for students with a disability only)

  • transportation to and from school, capped at $500 (Sen. Don Huffines amendment)

  • lunch while at school (Sen. Eddie Lucio amendment)

 

Eligibility:

  • Live within a county with 285,000 or more in population (17 counties) or within the attendance zone of a school district that is located even partially in such a county (based on the 2010 census)

  • School-age, and must have attended a Texas public school the entire preceding academic year (so it would exclude kindergartners)

  • Low-income students (with a household income not greater than 175 percent of free or reduced lunch guidelines), or

  • Students with disabilities, including those eligible for Section 504 services

 

Funding for eligible students:

  • 75 percent of state average Maintenance & Operations (M&O) per student for the preceding state fiscal year (approximately $6,799) or

  • For children with disabilities, 90 percent of state average M&O per student for the preceding state fiscal year (approximately $8,156)

 

Administration of accounts:

  • Comptroller approves financial institutions that may establish and manage accounts under the program

  • Contracts with vendor to audit participants

 

Other:

  • Tutors, services, online courses/programs must apply and be approved by the commissioner of education to be used with education savings accounts.

  • For students leaving a public school, districts receive funding equal to 12.5 percent of the M&O for one year (approximately $1,125 per child)

 

 

TAX CREDIT SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM — Administered by an education assistance organization that is selected by the comptroller (with a secondary organization selected as a backup), businesses would be able to receive a tax credit up to 50 percent of their annual insurance tax liability for contributions made to the education assistance organizations for education tuition scholarships. The program would be capped at $25 million annually.
 

 

Eligibility:

  • Live within a county with 285,000 or more in population (17 counties) or within the attendance zone of a school district that is located even partially in such a county (based on the 2010 census)

  • Students in foster care or institutional care

  • Low-income students (with a household income not greater than 175 percent of free or reduced lunch guidelines), and

  • Students with disabilities, including those eligible for Section 504 services

  • Students must have attended a Texas public school the entire preceding academic year

 

Funding for eligible students:

  • A scholarship up to 75 percent of state average M&O per student for the preceding state fiscal year or the cost of tuition at a private school, whichever is the lesser, or

  • A scholarship up to $500 for academic support programs at a public school

 

 

OTHER PROVISIONS — Students would be eligible to receive an education savings account and a tax credit scholarship, but the scholarships would only fund the difference between the amount an education savings account provides and a tuition amount, plus transportation. 75 percent of available funds would be dedicated to scholarships for tuition and 15 percent dedicated to education assistance programs. A “parent trigger” provision would establish criteria for voters in exempted counties to call for an election over whether their school district should opt in to a school choice program. 

 

 

 

SB 3 has been marred by controversy, including claims from House members that they received fraudulent letters addressed from constituents asking them to back the educational savings accounts. “State Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, was suspicious when his office fielded 520 letters between mid-February and mid-March from constituents of his rural district, who are more likely to oppose private school choice than support it. All the letters were addressed from Austin and had the full names and addresses of each constituent at the bottom,” according to the Texas Tribune.

 

While the bill was in committee, supporters represented and referred to other states that have implemented statewide voucher programs, saying Texas should “catch up.” Sen. Royce West, a Democrat from Dallas, had the sharpest rebuke, questioning the bill's supporters on the costs of the measure. 

 

The Texas Latino Education Coalition, Senate Hispanic Caucus, Mexican American Legislative Caucus and NAACP gathered outside the Capitol after the March 21 committee hearing on SB 3 and announced their unified opposition to the bill, saying it “would create private school vouchers, which have a racist past. They said that voucher systems were used once in Texas as a way to resist the desegregation of schools. ‘The purpose of vouchers is to ensure that affluent white children do not have to go to school with African-American or Latino children,’ said Gary Bledsoe, president of NAACP Texas. ‘Segregated schools are breeding grounds for racism,’” the Austin-American Statesman reported.

 

The bill now advances to the House. Drive West Communications will continue monitoring updates. Click here to sign up for our email alerts on education-related bills.

 

 

 

 

 

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