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Texas House committee advances school voucher bill, overcoming key hurdle

A Nimitz Middle School student raises their hand during class Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023 in Odessa.
Eli Hartman
The Texas Tribune
A Nimitz Middle School student raises their hand during class Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023 in Odessa.

From the Texas Tribune:

A Texas House committee has advanced school voucher legislation that could be key to ending the protracted stalemate over the issue this year at the Capitol.

By a vote of 10-4, the House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment approved House Bill 1 on Friday. It is a wide-ranging education bill that includes a voucher-like program known as education savings accounts that lets parents use taxpayer dollars to subsidize private schooling costs.

Gov. Greg Abbott has pushed all year for the proposal, prompting four special sessions. The committee approval marks the furthest a voucher bill has gotten in the House in recent history.

"We are excited to see a Texas House education committee pass school choice for the first time since 2005," Tommy Schultz, CEO of the American Federation for Children, said in a statement. "It's time to get this done."

The legislation now goes to the House Calendars Committee, which is responsible for routing bills to the floor for votes in the full chamber.

The 10-4 vote fell along party lines. The four no votes were all Democrats, while the fifth Democrat on the committee, Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-Mission, was absent.

House Bill 1 would establish an education savings account initiative that would set aside $10,500 every year per student for private school expenses. The program would prioritize students from low-income families and those with disabilities.

Critics of the bill worry that it diverts funding away from public education.

The bill’s other provisions include a bump in per-student spending by the state, from $6,160 to $6,700. It would also increase teacher pay.

House Democrats downplayed the significance of the committee vote ahead of it, suggesting the legislation still faced tough odds before the full House. In a letter to members, caucus Chair Trey Martinez Fischer said the vote would be a “reflection of a desire for the entirety of the House to have a final up-or-down vote on the voucher piece of this bill.”

“The vote is not and should not be seen as a reflection of the committee's position on the merits of a voucher scam,” wrote Martinez Fischer, of San Antonio.

Democrats have long joined rural Republicans to oppose school vouchers in the House. The 10 Republicans who voted for HB 1 on Friday included four who registered opposition to school vouchers during a test vote earlier this year: Reps. Trent Ashby of Lufkin, Keith Bell of Forney, Ken King of Canadian and Gary VanDeaver of New Boston.

The committee chair, Rep. Brad Buckley, R-Killeen, was under intense pressure — from the governor and others — to put together a bill that could bring rural Republicans onboard.

Abbott has put a lot of political capital on the line to try to get a voucher bill to his desk, but he was thwarted by the House in the regular session and again in the third special session. He has threatened that if lawmakers cannot get it done in a fourth special session, he will turn his focus to making it an issue against GOP holdouts in their March primaries.

The Senate has long passed its own voucher legislation, including its latest bill Thursday night. That proposal, Senate Bill 1, would create an education savings account program that would dole out $8,000 per student.

The upper chamber has a separate piece of legislation, Senate Bill 2, that addresses public school funding.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

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