A new version of Senate Bill 8, also known as the Parental Bill of Rights, was unveiled during the Texas Senate Education Committee hearing on Wednesday. Among the provisions in it was a $10,000 per student bribe to try and make rural school districts support the move to a voucher system.
One of the primary criticisms of the far-right push for school vouchers, what Governor Greg Abbott is calling an Education Savings Account (ESA), is that it will funnel money from public schools to private ones. In rural school districts, this could be devastating for struggling districts, which are often the economic and social lifeblood of small communities. Because of this, rural conservatives have been slow to support the voucher system even as they applaud other aspects such as banning the teaching of LGBT content.
Texas State Sen Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) said in his presentation of the new version that school districts with less than 20,000 students would receive a $10,000 stipend per student per year for any child that took advantage of the ESA and left their public school district. This stipend would only be good for two years, after which the legislature would have to either vote to continue it or let it lapse and cost rural school districts significant funds.
State Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) questioned why only smaller school districts should receive the handout.
“If that is a good policy, why does it only apply to small districts?” he asked. “There’s going to be an impact on them, and if this bill passes, we’re going to pay them $10,000 per child who leaves because that’s the impact you feel the small school districts would have. Do you not envision an impact on the other school districts?”
Creighton’s subsequent answer was rambling and had little to do with the question. In general, whenever he was asked for specifics he would speak at length about how Texas moms and dads would know the best thing to do.
Creighton also waffled under repeated questions about whether the bill should include any language that would require private schools who take state money from the ESAs to accept any student. He countered by saying that it was not necessary because any parent who was dissatisfied with their child’s education at the private school could simply leave. When asked if he would be willing to add increased scrutiny for private schools, Creighton responded “I would be hesitant to do that.”
State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) brought up several states that had used ESAs, particularly Indiana and Louisiana, that saw poor academic outcomes after implementing their systems, and cited a study from the University of Notre Dame. Creighton responded that he had a file full of studies showing how well other states’ programs did, but did not cite any specific works. Later, Larry Taylor passed around a packet of supporting statistics produced by the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute, a right-wing think tank previously part of the State Policy Network funded by oil and gas money.