“There’s any easy way to get it done, and there’s a hard way. Either way, I’m in this to win this,” Gov. Greg Abbott declared, referring to passing school choice legislation in the upcoming special session in October.
His declaration aligns with the findings of a report issued by the House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment, which was established by House Speaker Dade Phelan. The report indicates that vouchers will remain a topic of discussion during the Legislature’s third special session.
During the 88th Legislative regular session, Gov. Abbott prioritized vouchers but faced opposition from “The 24,” a coalition of Republican state representatives who derailed the legislation.
“The 24” helped halt vouchers voting for the Herrero amendment to House Bill 1 – the state budget bill. The amendment prohibited state funding from going to private and religious schools – it passed in the Texas House.
These representatives, hailing primarily from rural backgrounds that on average have a total school population of 50,000 students, staunchly oppose vouchers recognizing that rural public schools serve as community anchors and economic pillars.
Despite having a historic budget surplus, the 88th regular session failed to improve public education funding or increase teacher salaries, leaving local school districts in the Coastal Bend, a quintessential rural area, grappling with financial challenges as a new school year unfolds.
Karen Griffith, Corpus Christi ISD’s deputy superintendent of business and support services projected the district’s revenue to be less than their expenses. General fund revenue is projected to be about $306.7 million, while expenditures are estimated at $332.6 million. That means the budget has a deficit of almost $26 million.
During a school board meeting in June, Griffith said that the district has about three years of operating life before it runs out of savings if the district continues to pass deficit budgets.
“Like we did last year, we will look at what we can do to save money as we roll on through the year, and we’re hoping that we’re going to get some good news by the end of the legislative session that might help defray this also,” Griffith said back in June.
While Gov. Abbott believed touring rural areas where Republican members are against vouchers was enough to get them and their constituents on board, he overlooked one small detail: “Rural public schools are the lifeblood of their communities.”
Port Aransas ISD, a small district in the Coastal Bend, serves more than 500 students at three schools and employs close to 100 staff members. About half of them are teachers, according to the district’s TEA profile.
According to the 2022-23 salary schedule, beginning teacher pay in the district was $47,271 last year. The National Education Association estimates that the national average teacher salary for the 2022-23 school year in the U.S. is $68,469.
In neighboring districts Flour Bluff ISD, Aransas Pass ISD, and Rockport-Fulton ISD, starting teachers’ base pay was between about $46,000 and $50,100 last year.
“We all know inflation has skyrocketed the last few years, but yet funding from the state has remained flat,” Port Aransas ISD’s Superintendent Sharon McKinney told Caller Times in August. “It’s been very difficult to try to meet all of our increased expenses, as well as an increased pay for our dedicated staff members.”
However, there is still a glimmer of hope for public schools during the upcoming third special session, where Texas lawmakers have another shot at allocating funds to public education.
Todd Hunter, a prominent Republican representing District 32, has consistently
Voiced his strong support for Texas public schools and their crucial role in preparing the youth for the challenges of tomorrow.
“Texas will continue to thrive and grow if we emphasize public education spending that produces better students and attracts the best teachers,” Rep. Hunter states on his campaign website.
In recent legislative actions, Rep. Hunter made the decision to vote in favor of tabling the Herrero Amendment. Later, during the vote to adopt the budget amendment to HB1, Rep. Hunter chose to vote against it.
With public schools being the lifeblood of rural communities” it remains to be seen if voucher-like legislation will stand a chance against rural Republicans during the third special session.