Abbott Unhappy With Latest School Choice Bill

Gov. Greg Abbott | Image by lev radin, Shutterstock

Gov. Greg Abbott warned state lawmakers on Sunday that he would call them back for special legislative sessions if existing school choice legislation is not expanded.

As previously reported by The Dallas Express, the Texas House recently altered SB 8 to limit the number of students eligible for proposed education savings accounts that would be created if the bill was enacted. Such accounts would be used to help families pay for private schools if they want to pull their kids out of their home district.

“The Senate’s version of school choice makes about 5.5 million students eligible … The latest House version of school choice, which came out this weekend, only applies to about 800,000 students,” Abbott said in a statement.

“It also provides less funding for special education students than the original House version of the Senate bill and denies school choice to low-income families that may desperately need expanded education options for their children,” Abbott continued.

The revised House version of SB 8 scaled back eligibility for the proposed program to only students with disabilities or students who attended campuses that received an F-rating from the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

Another House version of the bill was introduced by Rep. Brad Buckley (R-Killeen) last week. It called for including students who qualify for free or reduced lunch and students who attend a D-rated campus or lower, The Texas Tribune reported.

“This latest version does little to provide meaningful school choice, and legislators deserve to know that it would be vetoed if it reached my desk … [F]ailure to expand the scope of school choice to something close to the Senate version or the original House version of the Senate bill will necessitate special sessions. Parents and their children deserve no less,” Abbott said.

Despite Abbott’s determination to sign school choice legislation, it is currently unclear whether the full House would be willing to vote in favor of a substantive bill, with both Democratic lawmakers and Republicans from rural districts aligned on limiting the scope of such legislation.

As previously reported in The Dallas Express, opponents of school choice argue that such policies would direct state taxpayer funding away from traditional public schools and toward private schools, thus putting a strain on public school districts’ budgets, which some believe would lead to teacher layoffs.

“When you lose enrollment, you have less money and have to make adjustments,” the executive director of the Texas Association of Rural Schools, Michael Lee, said previously. “The only way you can do that is through personnel cuts.”

Still, even in Democratic-leaning Dallas County, there appears to be significant support for some kind of school choice, with a survey of Dallas ISD parents and taxpayers ranking a “lack of school choice” in the troubled district as a major issue.

Dallas ISD has struggled to provide its students with a good education for years, managing to only graduate 81.1% of its graduating Class of 2022 on time, according to the district’s latest TEA accountability report.

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