Governor Greg Abbott’s quest to institute a school voucher system in the state was dealt a serious blow in the Texas House of Representatives on Thursday. An amendment banning the legislature from funding vouchers comfortably passed during budget talks.
The amendment was submitted by State Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Robstown), and it immediately drew several Republican supporters. It included provisions banning state funds for any voucher-like program, including Abbott’s Education Savings Accounts. While vouchers could still be passed, they won’t have any money provided under this amendment. That’s a problem considering the cost is easily $1 billion and climbing.
The final vote was 86-52, with 24 Republicans supporting the measure. This is the second time Herrero has prevailed, having passed a similar amendment in the last session. While he had less support this time around, the comfortable margin of passage indicates that the voucher system could have trouble surviving the current session.
Meanwhile, the Texas Senate is expected to move ahead approving the Education Savings Accounts. These would provide up to $8,000 per student of taxpayer money that would be used for private, mostly religious, schools. Passing a voucher system has been a major far-right conservative priority nationwide and a personal project of the governor, who spent weeks touring the country drumming up support. His rallies for vouchers took an often overtly religious tone, further indicating that the push for vouchers was ideologically driven against secular education rather than on student performance and resources.
As expected, much of the support for the amendment came from rural Republicans. Texas State Sen Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) has tried to woo rural support by offering districts with 20,000 students or fewer a $10,000 per student stipend, an act that was called out as blatant politicking by Democrats on the education committee. During hearings, Creighton dodged questions about why large urban school districts should suffer the loss of enrollment allotments alone, as well as questions about oversight regarding possible price gouging from private institutions. The stipend would expire after two years.
The possibility of rural schools suffering losses in funding to pay for the vouchers doesn’t seem to have deterred the Senate, who is still expected to pass a budget including the vouchers.
Now, it will come down to a fight. If Republicans hold firm in the House, the voucher measure is off the table until at least 2025. The far-right portion of the Texas Republican Party, often funded by oil moguls Farris Wilks and Tim Dunn through a network of powerful PACs, has already proven that they are willing to pressure members of the legislature that they feel are not adequately conservative, particularly when it comes to amendment that Texas GOP Chair Matt Rinaldi doesn’t like.
That said, it looks like vouchers simply don’t have the votes to pass in the Texas House. What this will do for the billions of dollars currently being debated in the state legislature thanks to a record-breaking budget surplus is anyone’s guess. Whatever happens, there is still a long way to go until Texas has her new budget passed.