House Posed to Force Fourth Special Session

Texas Capitol building | Image by Andy Nelson

Gov. Greg Abbott previously said he was confident school choice legislation would be passed by the end of the Texas Legislature’s third special session, but a lack of movement on the part of the House of Representatives has raised speculation that a fourth special session may be called.

House members met on Wednesday night but were told to “stand at ease” by House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) until sometime next week, reported Fox 4 KDFW.

A lack of attendance and thus productivity has frustrated some House members, as the lower chamber has failed to meet quorum on multiple occasions, meaning they have been unable to conduct business, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

However, a meeting on November 1 that met quorum also proved unproductive, leading Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) to question whether House “rules require a quorum for us to do nothing?”

According to Fox 4, Phelan responded, saying, “Sometimes that is correct, Mr. Dutton.”

The Texas Senate has already passed school choice legislation despite the House’s inaction.

Lawmakers and state officials have been split about whether school choice legislation should be enacted, with some claiming such a policy would divert taxpayer money away from the state’s public school systems.

To ease such concerns, Abbott expanded the current special session to include increased state funding of public schools and teacher pay raises.

Coppell ISD Superintendent Brad Hunt said he is “still very concerned” about some of the details, arguing, “Any bill that has vouchers attached to it is not worth supporting.”

“[Increased funding and teacher pay raises need] to be separate from any voucher bill. Our schools need to be funded, they truly do, but we don’t need to attach anything to vouchers just to get something through the legislature. To me, that is not the way to go,” Hunt said, according to Fox 4.

Shannon Holmes, executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said the organization is against school choice legislation. She called on the House to oppose such legislation.

“House members have the opportunity to take a stand. They need to vote against vouchers and only support a standalone school finance and teacher pay bill,” said Holmes, per The Texas Tribune.

Other officials have voiced their support for the Senate’s current school choice proposal, citing provisions that allegedly ensure transparency and give students attending low-performing public schools a chance to get a quality education.

“The [education savings accounts] that will be created by Senate Bill 1 will offer education opportunity to all Texas children,” said Greg Sindelar, CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, per The Texas Tribune.

Low student achievement scores at many public schools have helped spur action by state lawmakers. Enrollment at public school systems like Dallas ISD, for instance, has been on the decline in recent years, even without vouchers or education savings accounts in play.

Only 41% of students in Dallas ISD scored at grade level on their STAAR exams during the 2021-2022 school year, despite the hard work of the district’s dedicated teachers and staff. Additionally, almost 20% of students in the graduating Class of 2022 did not earn a high school diploma within four years. The statewide average for on-time graduation was 90% that school year.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick criticized the House in a social media post on Wednesday over the lower chamber’s lack of progress on the issue, stating that the Senate “passed both SB1 and SB2 to the House 3 weeks ago and [House members] have sat there all this time with no movement.”

“With Constitutional procedural requirements and House and Senate rules there is simply no time to start over with a new House bill. The Senate has passed School Choice bills three times this year, and 5 times overall, which required long hours in hearings and floor debate,” he continued. “No time for that again. … The Senate is ready to act, as we have been for weeks.”

As previously reported by The Dallas Express, polling has indicated significant support for some kind of school choice legislation across most demographics.

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