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Thursday , October 18 2018
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Tag Archives: texas school choice

House Education Leaders Won’t Budge on School Finance, Private School Choice

The top House education leader said Sunday that “private school choice” is still dead in the lower chamber.

“We only voted six times against it in the House,” House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty said. “There’s nothing more offensive as a parent of a special-needs child than to tell me what I think I need. I’m prepared to have that discussion again. I don’t think [the Senate is] going to like it — because now I’m pissed off.”

Huberty, R-Houston, told a crowd of school administrators at a panel at the University of Texas at Austin that he plans to restart the conversation on school finance in the July-August special session after the Senate and House hit a stalemate on the issue late during the regular session. Huberty’s bill pumping $1.5 billion into public schools died after the Senate appended a “private school choice” measure, opposed by the House.

Huberty was joined by Education Committee Vice Chairman Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, and committee member Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, on a panel hosted by the Texas Association of School Administrators, where they said they didn’t plan to give in to the Senate on the contentious bill subsidizing private school tuition for kids with special needs.

Gov. Greg Abbott has called legislators back to Austin for a July-August special session to tackle a hefty 20-item agenda that includes several public education issues that the Senate and House could not agree on during the legislative session. Huberty, Bernal and VanDeaver on Sunday refused to budge politically from where they stood on major education issues during the regular session.

“I pretty much stand where I stood then,” VanDeaver said.

Educators argue private school choice saps money from the public school system, while proponents say it offers low-income parents choices beyond the limited scope of the public education system.

That position could put the representatives in private school choice advocates’ crosshairs as they gear up for re-election in 2018. Huberty, already a target of efforts to unseat him in the next Republican primary, called it an “onslaught” against public education.

VanDeaver said educators have two options: They can give in to the Senate’s attempts to attach school finance and private school choice, or they can vote against legislators who want those issues linked.

“If you don’t stick up for yourselves in a real way … we are going to lose,” Bernal added.

Abbott put several public education bills on the special session agenda, to be addressed only after the Senate passes crucial “sunset” bills that would keep several state agencies, including the Texas Medical Board, operating during the next budget cycle.

Huberty said providing public schools with additional revenue is the only way to decrease local property taxes, another priority of the governor on the agenda for special session. “I’m planning on filing a property tax bill that will address school finance,” he said.

Educators have argued school districts must push for higher taxes because the state is underfunding public schools.

Huberty said he did not know if he would re-file the exact same piece of school finance legislation the House passed in the spring. That bill simplified the formulas for funding public schools and injected $1.5 billion into public schools, in part by using a budget trick to defer a payment to public schools until 2019.

Huberty said the Legislature could still fund the bill by using that mechanism. “If there’s no money, I get it,” he said. “But we got a mechanism set up to be able to deal with it.”

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin and Texas Association of School Administrators have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Speaking to hundreds of educators ahead of a special session packed with education bills, House Speaker Joe Straus chastised the Senate for underfunding school finance reform. [link]
  • Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor on Wednesday afternoon said that he would not appoint conferees to negotiate with the House on a proposed school finance overhaul. “That deal is dead,” he said. [link]
  • The Texas Senate voted to approve a bill that would simplify funding formulas for public schools and let parents use state money to send their kids with disabilities to private schools or pay for homeschooling. [link]

Author:  ALIYYA SWABY – The Texas Tribune

In School Choice Fight, a Fresh Force Emerges

An ambitious new player has emerged in the controversial effort to use taxpayer dollars to help Texas parents send their kids to private or religious schools.

Texans for Education Opportunity, whichlaunched in May, supports all forms of “school choice,” including charters and traditional public schools, said Executive Director Randan Steinhauser, an Austin-based school choice activist and public relations consultant who co-founded the nonprofit advocacy organization.

But she said the group’s main goal is to get Texas lawmakers to create “education savings accounts” — a program under which the state would dole out taxpayer money directly to parents via debit card to cover approved education-related expenses, like private school tuition, tutors or homeschooling materials. About a half-dozen other Republican-dominated states, including Florida and Arizona, have already created such programs, although most of them target specific student populations, including disabled and low-income students. (Nevada is an exception, offering assistance to all students.)

Literature provided by Texans for Education Opportunity, which appears to be the first statewide organization focused solely on school choice, suggests the state offer up to $7,800 for any student pursuing an alternative schooling route. That is about 90 percent of what the state provides on average to traditional school districts per student for annual maintenance and operations, the pamphlet says.

The concept is similar to private school vouchers, in which taxpayer funds are awarded directly to schools, but it is larger in scope.

Monty Exter, a lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said education savings accounts are worse than vouchers because there is no good way to control how parents spend the money. The states that have implemented such programs have included no provisions that allow them to reclaim money if parents spend it on “a flatscreen TV or a bag of crack,” he said.

“Who’s to say that a laptop isn’t an educational expenditure, but who’s to say that it is? Who is going to police that?” he said. “Are we going to pay someone at the state level to monitor this program, and how much is that going to cost?”

Exter said that concern is separate from the larger one school and teacher groups have long expressed in opposing such programs — that they divert much-needed dollars away from struggling public schools.

But Steinhauser said such a program would have “the biggest benefit to families” because — unlike private school vouchers — it would empower parents to choose the option that works best for their child.

“We’re working to educate legislators on the specifics,” she said, arguing that there is rampant misinformation about how such a program would function. “We’re making sure they understand the positive impact it could have on the state of Texas and on students in their district and families in the state who are desperate for another option.” txtbSch

The group, whose board of directors includes former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, has so far raised more than $100,000 from a variety of local and national organizations to fund its work, Steinhauser said. And it expects to raise hundreds of thousands more dollars through the political action committee it will form this fall to dole out campaign contributions to the state lawmakers who assist with its mission.

Businesswoman and philanthropist Stacy Hock, who co-founded the group, has spearheaded fundraising. (She serves on the board of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank. Earlier this year, Gov. Greg Abbott also appointed her to serve on the Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability, where she serves as vice-chair.)

“We’ll be supporting legislators who stand up and fight for an education savings account during the session” next year, Steinhauser said.

Creating such a program is a top priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has tried unsuccessfully to do so since he was a state senator. Last year, under his leadership, the Senate passed a bill that would’ve provided up to $100 million in tax credits to businesses that donated money for scholarships for school choice families. But it died in the House, where a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers has long blocked such proposals.

Steinhauser said she has worked closely with Patrick since her 2013 move to Texas, where she was surprised to find that school choice initiatives weren’t further along. She had previously traveled the country lobbying for school choice legislation as national director of external affairs for the American Federation of Children, the nation’s largest school choice organization.

In addition to her new role heading Texans for Education Opportunity, Steinhauser also is an adviser for both National School Choice Week and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. And she is a partner at the political and public relations consulting firm she co-founded with her husband, Brendan Steinhauser, a Texas native whose clients include U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin.

Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators and the Texas Public Policy Foundation have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Author:  – The Texas Tribune

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