The Senate Education Committee met this morning at 8:30 on only 10 hours notice to hear testimony on a committee substitute of House Bill 100. After hearing testimony for 90 minutes, mostly against the measure, the committee voted 9-3 to send the bill to the full Senate.
The legislation was quickly drafted after Governor Greg Abbott indicated that he would call a special session if a voucher-like program did not pass. The committee will examine a revised version of the bill, which aims to provide additional funding to school districts while introducing an education savings account program. This program would grant parents who choose to opt out of public schools up to $8,000 per student annually, allowing them to cover expenses related to private schooling, textbooks, and tutoring.
The proposed voucher program would be accessible to most of Texas’ 5.5 million students, including those already enrolled in private schools, with priority given to students attending schools that received a C grade or lower in the state’s accountability program. The Senate’s updated version of HB 100 is an effort to pass a voucher-like program before the legislative session concludes on May 29th. Governor Abbott’s threat of a special session served as motivation, highlighting the importance of enacting a voucher program that benefits a significant number of families.
During earlier stages of the session, the Senate pursued a more comprehensive voucher program through Senate Bill 8, but the House Committee on Public Education narrowed its scope, leading to the bill’s failure in committee. Republicans have traditionally faced opposition to voucher programs in the Texas House, as Democrats and rural Republicans formed a coalition against such initiatives due to concerns over diverting funds from public schools.
In addition to the education savings account, the revised version of HB 100 includes a $50 increase in the basic allotment, the minimum funding per student received by schools, which presently stands at $6,160. This increase is smaller than the original $90 proposed by the House. The bill also raises the required state funding percentage for teacher raises from 30% to 50%, allowing the remaining portion to cover other school expenses. It incorporates updates to the base salary scale for teachers based on experience and includes provisions from other bills aimed at addressing the state’s teacher shortage. Furthermore, the bill designates funds for supporting teacher residencies, rehiring retired teachers, and providing $300 million in special education funding.
Several witnesses testified against the bill. One witness testifying against the measure said, “Our schools are not failing. You are.”
Sen. Royce West questioned the germaneness of the committee substitute to the original bill, “There’s nothing in the engrossed version of HB100 that deals with ESAs,” said Sen. West.
After Sen. Brandon Creighton asserted that the ESAs did not amount to a voucher program, Sen. José Menéndez responded, “a rose by any other name is still a rose.”
School districts have been advocating for an increase in the basic allotment as their finances were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and inflation has diminished the value of state funds. They hoped that a portion of the state’s $32.7 billion surplus would be directed toward supporting schools. The Senate’s voucher bill represents another attempt by Republicans to pass such a program, capitalizing on the theme of parental rights, which has gained traction during school closures resulting from the pandemic.
Several witnesses testified against the bill, with one witness testifying, “our schools are not failing. You are.”