House And Senate Tensions Flare In Upcoming Education-Focused Special Session

With a special session on education right around the corner and Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial in the rearview mirror, things in the Capitol are more heated than usual.

Gov. Greg Abbott has made it clear that voucher-like legislation will be the main course of the special session, and will pass whether they get it done the easy way or the hard way.  Last week, during a tele-town hall with Christian clergy, Gov. Abbot said they would take it either way “in a special session or after an election.”

During the 88th Legislative regular session, the Senate took hostage the main education funding bill to add an amendment that would give families at least  $7,500 in education savings accounts to spend on private school tuition. This proposal was derailed by House representatives, and no education funding bill was passed. 

The prospects for a teacher pay increase and a raise in the basic allotment were killed when the voucher proposal failed, and the looming question is whether internal conflicts will once more jeopardize the passage of a substantial public education funding bill during October’s special session.

While Republicans maintain control of both legislative chambers, it’s important to note that within the House, rural GOP lawmakers opposed to vouchers hold greater influence compared to their counterparts in the Senate.

The Senate’s recent acquittal of Paxton, who faced charges brought by the Republican-controlled House, further strained the relationship between the state’s top legislative leaders. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who presided over Paxton’s trial, criticized the House for impeaching Paxton and pledged to conduct an audit and revamp the impeachment process. House Speaker Dade Phelan responded by accusing Patrick of bias in favor of Paxton and warned that senators who acquitted Paxton might face scrutiny if new revelations surfaced about Paxton’s actions.

“It’s going to be a huge hangover into the special session,” Republican consultant Matthew Langston told The Dallas Morning News. “You have the shots taken at each other by the speaker and lieutenant governor, so there appears to be very little to no desire to work together on a solution.”

Consequently, Abbott now faces the challenging task of seeking a middle ground, as pointed out by Langston. His ability to act as a mediator will be put to the test, considering the current discord between the House and Senate.

The House is likely to band together just as they did during the regular session to stop voucherlike legislation. Given the unity of House Democrats against vouchers, a substantial level of GOP opposition is not required to effectively block the passage of a school choice bill.

On Saturday during a panel at The Texas Tribune Festival, moderated by Matthew Watkins, managing editor of news and politics, State Rep. John Bryant said it was time to take an active stand against Republicans after the party seemed “unwilling to work together” during the regular session, as reported by The Texas Tribune. 

“I think the case is so strong in our favor, it’s really going to be a question of whether we can overcome … the billionaire caucus that is out there,” said Rep. Bryant, who was joined by Rep. Trey Martniez Fischer and Rep. Victoria Neave Criado. “Putting the pressure on these Republicans and keep our wobbly Democrats in line. Not all the Democrats are talking the same way as the three of us.”

Despite differing opinions, all panel participants expressed their intention to oppose the school voucher bill during the upcoming special legislative session. This unity among House members underscores their determination to stand together against the Senate and voucher proposals.

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