Northeast Texas legislators reacted this week to a bill filed in the State Senate to create a voucher system using public money to fund private education.
Filed by Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) on Monday, Senate Bill 3 would subsidize private education by allowing parents to use Education Savings Accounts. They could spend the money on private school tuition.
Education officials in rural areas say savings accounts divert funds from public schools. They also argue that private schools aren’t held to the same standards as public schools, which are subject to state evaluations like standardized testing.
Two State House lawmakers from northeast Texas quickly rejected the bill.
“I’m not convinced that we’re adequately fading public schools right now,” State Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) told KETR on Tuesday. “Until we are adequately funding public schools I don’t think we need to be pulling money from them.”
VanDeaver says he supports school choice in principle.
“I do support parents having the right to choose where their child is educated. I support that concept. But I do not support this bill nor do I support and bill that takes public money and gives it to parents or private schools, faith-based schools, or home schools, and takes money from public schools to do that,” he said.
“There’s just no accountability tied to those funds. … I don’t think it’s a good idea to distribute state funds with no accountability attached to it.”
After seeking input on education throughout the district, and varying opinions on complex issues facing our state's public education system, I cannot support education savings accounts, or any school choice measure at this time. I have major concerns with private school tuition rates and the disparity between the amount of the voucher as well as other complex issues such as transportation, testing, and accountability to public tax dollars. My focus this session is on strengthening our broken school finance formulas, reducing standardized testing, improving accountability metrics, and returning local control to our school districts.
And Dan Flynn (R-Canton) told KETR through his chief of staff that he would not take a position on the bill until seeing a House version: “I’d be very interested in studying this once it gets to the House. We really can’t comment on the (Senate) bill because we don’t know what all will be in it until it arrives over here. So, it would not be appropriate to comment."
Five other state representatives from Northeast Texas — Larry Phillips (R-Sherman), Cole Hefner (R-Mt. Pleasant), Lance Gooden (R-Terrell), Scott Sanford (R-McKinney) and Jodie Laucbenberg (R-Parker) — did not return calls from KETR.
Last session a similar bill passed the Senate but never made it to a House vote.
This term's bill has strong support from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has prioritized school choice since the start of the 2017 legislative session.
Patrick is a staunch critic of the public education system, and he campaigned heavily on school choice ahead of the 2013 election.
This week, Patrick said every parent in Texas should have a choice about where to send their child. He said the program outlined in Senate Bill 3 would focus on what he called failing schools.
The eduction choice bill comes weeks after a controversial school rating system was unveiled. Critics of that plan said at the time that it was aimed at delegitimizing public schools ahead of the legislative session.