AUSTIN (AP) — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Texas’ leading “school choice” proponent, got the House floor vote on vouchers he demanded — but not his desired result.
During last week’s marathon state budget debate, the House voted 103-44 to prohibit using taxpayer funding for private schools, expressly forbidding vouchers.
That should doom a Senate bill approved days earlier that creates education savings accounts allowing parents to remove children from struggling public schools and send them to private alternatives, and sanctions tax breaks for businesses offering donations to help youngsters pay for private schooling.
Patrick, who oversees the Senate, had tried publicly to force the House’s hand on vouchers, fearing the Senate bill might not otherwise make it to a floor vote. Now he knows for sure: Much of the House hates vouchers as much as most of the Senate supports them.
Last session, the Senate approved a larger voucher bill that didn’t reach the House floor. In 2015, the House passed a budget amendment declaring that public funding should stay with public schools.
Both chambers are Republican-controlled. They find common ground on other thorny policy issues like abortion restrictions, sanctioning strict voter ID rules and cracking down on immigration. So, why not on vouchers?
House Democrats are strong supporters of teachers, their unions and the public schools where they work. And Democrats typically team with Republicans from rural communities, where private schools are scarce and public ones are top employers as well as social centers. Hoping for a bill the House could stomach this time, the Senate approved vouchers that wouldn’t apply to communities of 285,000 residents or less.
But House opposition remained as staunch as ever. Many Republicans say they worry about having to explain votes supporting vouchers to school superintendents in their districts. Exceptions for rural areas doesn’t make that easier since voucher plans in other states often started small only to eventually expand to nearly every student.
Patrick insists he’s playing the legislative long game and wants to see groundwork laid now pay off with voucher approved during future sessions. It may have to be a very long game, though, since last week’s House budget vote was so similar to the one from four years ago. Maybe 2021 could be different?
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