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The Texas Senate passed school vouchers last week. What’s next?

Gabriel C. Pérez

The Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 8 last week, which if signed into law would allow families to spend public dollars on private school expenses through education savings accounts.

Also last week, the Texas House of Representatives passed their $302.6 billion budget — with a provision that would prevent public money from being spent on private schools.

So what happens now?

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán, who covers politics for the Texas Newsroom, said the provision in the House budget preventing vouchers is not final.

“If this provision were to be accepted by the Texas Senate, then school vouchers would be likely dead. But that is very unlikely, actually,” he said. “This provision in the budget, it doesn’t mean that it’s actually going to be there til the end. We have seen that this provision has passed multiple times in the past, but they end up actually being stripped out from the final version (of the budget) in the Senate. More than anything it’s sending a message that there is still resistance from rural GOP lawmakers in terms of school vouchers. But there could be some change of heart.”

Martínez-Beltrán explained that the Senate’s education savings account bill was designed to assuage concerns from rural Republicans, who have voted against such measures in the past. The bill includes language that would maintain funding for smaller public schools for two years if students in those schools use their savings account money to switch to private school. It also allows the savings account money to be spent on expenses beyond tuition costs.

“We have heard that Republicans in the Senate feel a little bit more comfortable with the fact that the Senate bill gives $10,000 to school districts per student they lose to this voucher program, particularly rural communities. So they feel more comfortable with that,” he said. “What’s interesting is that other Republicans that are big supporters of school vouchers and what they call ‘school choice’ are a little skeptical about this because they say it didn’t go far enough. Some of these members have said the voucher bill should include students currently in private schools and also homeschoolers. So they are going to be pushing for an expansion of the current bills, which would only apply to students currently enrolled in public schools.”

Martínez-Beltrán said it’s too early to say what will happen with vouchers this session, but there’s a good chance some version of the program reaches the governor’s desk.

“The Senate passed their version of the voucher bill last week. Now it’s headed to the House. But I think we’re going to see some back and forth in the next few weeks,” he said. “I think we’re going to see some members of the Republican Party maybe changing their hearts. And this voucher stands at the end of the day. Gov. Greg Abbott has been pushing for education savings accounts big time. He’s meeting with members trying to ensure that by the end of session on May 29, the Texas Legislature has passed some sort of voucher-like law.”

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