If a bill allowing taxpayer money to be spent on tuition at private, mostly religious schools doesn’t pass, Texas Senate Republicans have a Plan B: eliminate the ability for private schools to reject transfers or charge them tuition.
Governor Greg Abbott’s misnamed education savings account bill has met consistent opposition from rural Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives. Those Republicans and their Democratic colleagues see school vouchers as a way to funnel massive amounts of public funds from school districts into the coffers of wealthy private schools in urban and suburban parts of Texas. The loss of so many students in public schools, which are funded on a per-student base, could decimate those schools’ budgets.
Enter State Sem. Brandon Creighton (R-The Woodlands). He has been the chief architect of the various voucher initiatives that have limped to defeat this year. His latest filing is Senate Bill 77, which he introduced last Tuesday.
The bill opens with the assertion that “the fundamental rights granted to parents by their Creator and upheld by the United States Constitution, the Texas Constitution, and the laws of this state, including the right to direct the moral and religious training of the parent’s child, make decisions concerning the child’s education, and consent to medical, psychiatric, and psychological treatment of the parent’s child under Section 151.001, Family Code, may not be infringed on by any public elementary or secondary school or state governmental entity, including the state or a political subdivision of the state.”
This mirrors the rhetoric around the “school choice” issue, which has been sold to arch-conservatives as a way to avoid “woke” lessons in public schools. Basically, any content that offends a student’s parent is prohibited. Presumably this includes acknowledging the equality of LGBT people, the teaching scientific evolution, having history lessons that focus on white supremacy’s impact on America, and other far-right culture wars that have dominated school board meetings over the last several years.
Where the bill gets interesting is in the changes to the transfer system. Currently in Texas, parents have the right to send their students to any public school or charter school they like, no questions asked. The new school is not required to provide transportation, but Texans can technically send their child to any public school they want.
In SB77, the italicized following portion has been cut:
“Any child, other than a high school graduate, who is younger than 21 years of age and eligible for enrollment on September 1 of any school year may apply to transfer for in-person instruction annually from the child’s school district of residence to another district in this state for in-person instruction if both the receiving district and the applicant parent or guardian or person having lawful control of the child jointly approve and timely agree in writing to the transfer.”
This means that apart from a few exceptions like full student capacity, schools cannot refuse a transfer if the reason is because a parent feels their beliefs are being persecuted at their current school.
Section 5 of the bill asserts that this does cover private schools, and Section 3 says, “A student who transfers to another school district under this section may not be charged tuition.”
It’s unclear what the purpose of this bill is. It could be a threat to religious communities that have balked at supporting the voucher bill, saying “if you won’t help us use state money to send kids to your school we’ll make you take them for free.” Or, it could be a way for parents to transfer students to private schools while making the receiving schools eat the cost rather than the state. While that would save Texas some money, the loss of students would still negatively impact public school budgets.
Thus far, the bill has only been filed and seems to have zero support. That may change when and if the main school voucher bill is voted down.