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Is The New House Education Committee Pro Or Anti-Vouchers?

This past week, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan announced the House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment which will focus on issues that “broadly affect educational opportunities for K-12 students in Texas,” according to a press release.

“This committee will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of education in Texas, ensuring that our students have equal access to quality education while simultaneously supporting our dedicated educators and institutions,” Phelan said in the release. “With a special session all but certain, the select committee will begin working immediately to closely examine this subject matter and develop a workable roadmap for legislation in the House.”

The committee has been assigned the responsibility of presenting an initial report on potential alternatives for enhancing educational opportunities for students in grades K-12. This report must be submitted on or before August 11th.

Phelan, who has not been afraid to go against the Senate’s wishes, has dramatically changed the leadership and membership of the key Texas House Committee expected to hear school finance or voucher bills in a future special session.

Rep. Brad Buckley will head the House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment.Since he first ran for Texas House in 2018, Rep. Buckley has publicly spoken against private school voucher schemes. In addition, he comes from a family of public educators, and his wife is an assistant superintendent for Killeen ISD.

What could this new committee mean for voucher legislation? Let’s take a look at the members:  

  • Brad Buckley, Chair
  • Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, Vice Chair
  • Trent Ashby
  • Keith Bell
  • Harold Dutton
  • James Frank
  • Cody Harris
  • Cole Hefner
  • Gina Hinoiosa
  • Ken King
  • Oscar Longoria
  • Will Metcalf
  • Matt Shaheen
  • James Talarico
  • Gary VanDeaver

In addition to Buckley, joining the select panel from the Public Education Committee are Reps. Ken King, Harold Dutton, Oscar Longoria, former public school superintendent Rep. Gary VanDeaver, former school board trustee Rep. Gina Hinojosa, and former public school teacher Rep. James Talarico.

New to the committee are former school board trustees Rep. Keith Bell and Rep. Trent Ashby. Vice-chairing this new committee is Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, who served as a superintendent and had founded a public charter in Bexar County.

Reform Austin took a look at three test votes where the Texas House took a stance against vouchers, to determine the majority of the House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment is anti-voucher.

The first two test votes are on the Herrero Amendment, a proposed budget amendment to prohibit the use of state dollars for a voucher or Education Savings Account (ESA) program. The first vote was to table the amendment, which failed with a vote of 86 to 52 with 11 present but not voting, and the second vote was to adopt it, which succeeded with a vote of .

The third test vote was on the motion to permit an impromptu Texas House Education Committee meeting on Senate Bill 8, the Senate’s priority education funding bill. The voucher program created an Educational Savings Account (ESA) for special education students who are “economically disadvantaged,” or students who attend a “D” or below school. 

The meeting was announced with very short notice and with no formal hearing, an extremely unorthodox approach to moving legislation, which is why the House members shot down the efforts to meet without the three-day posting rule, in a 76-65 vote.

Looking at those three test votes, there are six members who supported vouchers, three members who have mixed votes, and six members who voted against vouchers. If we assume at least two of the three members with mixed votes support vouchers, then the committee would have a majority in support of vouchers. See the below table:

Pro-Voucher = 6
NamePartyMotion to Table Herrero AmendmentHerrero AmendmentImpromptu SB 8 Meeting Vote
Matt ShaheenRYNY
Will MetcalfRYNY
Cole HefnerRYNY
Cody HarrisRYPNVY
James FrankRYNY
Brad BuckleyRYPNVY
Mixed = 3
NamePartyMotion to Table Herrero AmendmentHerrero AmendmentImpromptu SB 8 Meeting Vote
Keith BellRYYY
Oscar LongoriaDNYN* Y
Harold DuttonDPNVPNVN
Anti-Voucher = 7
NamePartyMotion to Table Herrero AmendmentHerrero AmendmentImpromptu SB 8 Meeting Vote
Gary VanDeaverRNYN
Trent AshbyRNYN
Gina HinojosaDNYN
Ken KingDNYN
James TalaricoDNYN
Barbara Gervin-HawkinsDNYA

*Longoria voted no on allowing the House Public Education Committee to meet to discuss SB8 without a public hearing, but gave a statement of vote in the House Journal that he intended to vote yes.

During the regular 88th Texas Legislative session, vouchers failed to pass through the Texas House, ultimately resulting in a bittersweet victory for public education advocates.

Since Gov. Greg Abbott’s highest priority is vouchers, all other public education funding was held hostage by the Senate and died in the House. The House killed the Senate’s priority education bill, Senate Bill 8, as a backlash, after the Senate added a last-minute voucher amendment to their school finance and teacher pay bill, House Bill 100.

In the end, both bills died.

Gov. Abbott’s unwavering dedication to advocating for vouchers persists as he gears up for a special session on education. Throughout the regular 88th legislative session, Abbott demonstrated his willingness to employ unorthodox methods in pursuit of his objectives. These tactics included exerting high-pressure influence, as exemplified by the presence of his staff during the Herrero amendment vote. Additionally, his campaign took the initiative to fund pro-voucher push polls and organize rallies in rural House Republican districts.

It remains to be seen what Gov. Abbott has in store for the special session or when he plans to call it. He recently doubled down on vouchers on Monday, after signing a bill into law that will create a statewide rating and censorship system for school libraries and another promoting more centralized school curricula.

“The House and Senate have done a great job this session already to provide transformative changes in education in the state of Texas — changes that improve the education process and as far as curriculum, changes that improve it for parents, for students, as well as for teachers,” the governor said.

“They’ve done a lot of good, to be clear, but we’re not done yet. We all know that in addition to the changes I’m about to send into law, we need to deliver on the promise to parents that parents will have the ability to choose education pathways best for their child.”

Both Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have endorsed an approach similar to what the Senate did to HB 100, combining school finance, teacher pay bumps with an ESA-style voucher program. This has been criticized as holding teachers hostage for the Republican leaders’ priorities. It remains to be seen where House Speaker Phelan lies on the issue. This select committee appointment suggests he might be more open than publicly stated about negotiating a compromise. If Patrick’s claim that Phelan originated the idea for the Senate’s voucher addition to HB 100 has any validity, public school advocates should gear up for another fight later this year.

Staff
Staff
Written by RA News staff.

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