The Texas House Education Opportunity and Enrichment select committee released its report regarding public education in Texas. The committee is led by Rep. Brad Buckley (R-Killeen), with Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio) as vice chair.
The report laid out recommendations for the teacher workforce, school finance, student outcomes and school vouchers.
While the committee did not approve of the school voucher program the Legislature tried passing this year, that would have used taxpayer money to send their kids to private schools. Thus, taking funds away from public schools and feeding into private schools.
The report said that if the lawmakers were to approve such a program, it should prioritize high-needs students and be smaller in scale. The report also recommended that the funds for a voucher program should be separate from funds for public schools.
“The program should include appropriate safeguards to ensure fiscal responsibility and accountability including, but not limited to, a finite appropriation to fund the program using General Revenue funds and not funds from Foundation School Program. Ultimately, the program needs to value the best interest of the student, parent and taxpayer, preserving the quality of education,” the report said.
The voucher program was blocked by House Democrats and rural Republicans, they rallied against vouchers because it would hurt the state’s public education system they said.
The report might be the first open lane for vouchers in the state, although, it remains to be seen if the House would agree to the committee’s recommendations and whether the Senate would vote for it, despite wanting a border program.
Gov. Greg Abbott has previously threatened to veto a diluted version of school vouchers and has said that he prefers a universal voucher program.
The report also laid out recommendations from the committee to expand education choices that already exist in the state’s education system, such as STEM academies, career and technical education and early-college high schools.
Gervin-Hawkins, the committee vice chair, wrote that the school voucher program should incorporate a “sunset date” to allow the legislature to review the program’s performance and determine its value and whether it should continue.
“Without accountability the Legislature is left without informational tools to monitor student progress,” Gervin-Hawkins wrote.
The only member to not sign the report, Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin), wrote in the letter at the end of the report, how some of the committee’s recommendations would hurt public schools and included her own suggestions to add more funds for teacher pay and special education programs.
Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) wrote that the public education system in the state already offers plenty of choices for students and parents and is worried that school vouchers will open a door for public school funds to go to private schools without any transparency or accountability.
“As we go forward, we cannot ignore either the right of parents to decide what is best for their children nor our constitutional mandate of maintaining ‘public free schools,”’ VanDeaver wrote. “I look forward to a thorough debate and honest discussions.”
During the regular legislative session, the House and Senate were unable to reach an agreement on raising school funds, due to the disagreement on vouchers in the state chambers.
The committee report recommended the Legislature raise the basic allotment, which is the amount of money a school district receives per student. This was a priority for cash-strapped schools going into the regular session.
The report said that raising the basic allotment, will contribute to student achievement and will allow schools to give teachers raises, who remain the only state employee to not receive a raise during the regular session.
If by the end of the special session, the Texas legislators don’t raise the basic allotment by at least $1,000, they would have failed to increase education funding. This is during a session that has a budget surplus of nearly $33 million.
The recommendations also included expanding the Teacher Incentive Allotment, a program that promises to pay teachers up to six figures in salary, provided they meet certain performance requirements.
The committee also recommends free pre-K for teachers’ children. As well as recommendations to fund and establish the Teacher Residency Program, where aspiring teachers would be paired up with a teacher for a school year. This program has already been successful in some school districts, even though the districts have had to get creative on how to receive funding.
The committee recommendations also include waiving certification costs for aspiring bilingual and special education teachers and waving certification costs for first-time teacher applicants. The report made a note that 1 in 3 teachers taught last year with no certification.
The report also recommended eliminating a fee districts would have to pay if they hired retired teachers.
The committee recommended lawmakers consider passing a policy that will allow for rapid intervention when students show low proficiency in school and assist schools in monitoring students’ literacy development.
A teacher vacancy task force which was put together by Abbott earlier this year made some of these recommendations as well. Some of the changes recommended were being adopted in bills by lawmakers but fell apart due to the debate over school vouchers.
The next special session will be in Oct, which will cover education and will have $5 billion set aside in part for teacher pay raises, Lt. Gov Dan Patrick said.