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On Tuesday, April 11, 2023, the House Public Education Committee has five bills and one resolution on the agenda. Four bills (HB 619, HB 3781, HB 4340, HB 4807) have been deemed voucher/tax credit/education savings account bills.

What Action to Take
Please contact your House members — especially members of the House Public Education Committee — to let them know you oppose these four bills, and if possible, plan to be at the Capitol on Tuesday to register opposition, to testify in opposition, and to visit lawmakers and make your presence known.

Share the TASA Legislative Priority on Vouchers, Taxpayer Savings Grants, Virtual Vouchers:

“Oppose any state plan that would use vouchers, tax credits, taxpayer savings grants, tuition reimbursements, or any other means to divert public tax dollars to private entities, homeschooled students, or parents, with little or no academic or financial accountability or transparency to the state, taxpayers, or local communities.”

Look up who represents you in the Texas House/find contact info

Find information on in-person testifying.

Find information on submitting comments related to agenda items electronically. Texas residents who wish to electronically submit comments related to agenda items without testifying in person can do so until the hearing is adjourned. Submissions are limited to 3,000 characters, including spaces. You will need to note in the body of the electronic form that you are “opposed” to the measure. You will need to register on each voucher bill (ESA, tax credits) and say you oppose the proposal in the body of the form. You can register those positions anytime between now and when the hearing adjourns on Tuesday.

Watch a live broadcast of the hearing at 8 a.m. Tuesday.

Voucher Bills on the Agenda

HB 619 (Shaheen) – “Relating to an insurance premium tax credit for contributions made to certain educational assistance organizations.” This bill proposes to provide a premium tax credit for qualified entities to be administered as student scholarships for private education by Education Assistance Organizations (EAOs) that are approved by the state. The program would award up to 75% of the state average maintenance and operations education expenditure per student (from the previous year) to qualifying students. Students from both private and public schools would be eligible. The bill would take effect on January 1, 2024, and would limit the total expenditures for the program for that year to $100 million. The Coalition for Public Schools considers this a tax credit voucher bill because there is an overt transference of taxpayer funds to private entities.

HB 3781 (Jetton) – “Relating to special education in public schools, including the special education allotment under the Foundation School Program, an education savings account program for certain children with disabilities, and a grant program to reimburse public schools for the cost of certain employer contributions for retirees of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas employed to teach special education.” The bill requires TEA to develop a comprehensive system to ensure school district compliance with federal and state law regarding special education and outlines rules for that system, including the provision of supplemental services outside of the admissions, review, and dismissal (ARD) process for special needs children. The bill requires the agency to establish and administer an education savings account (voucher) program to provide funding for certain education-related expenses of eligible children. A child is eligible to participate in the program: if the child has a disability; is eligible to attend a public school and (A) was enrolled in a public school in this state for a period of at least six weeks during the preceding or current  school year; (B) was required to attend school under Section 25.085 for a period of less than six weeks during the preceding and current school year due to the child’s age or nonresidence in this state; or (C) participated in the program during the preceding school year. The Coalition for Public Schools considers this a voucher bill because there is an overt transference of taxpayer funds to private citizens.

HB 4340  (Frank) – “Relating to the establishment of the Education Savings Account Program to allow certain children to use public money to pursue educational alternatives to public schools and an insurance premium tax credit for contributions made for purposes of that program.” This bill would create education savings account programs that rely on educational assistance organizations (EAOs) to receive funds, either from the state or from private donations, to provide to individuals of varying eligibility for educational expenses, including private school tuition. The EAOs could take up to 10% of the provided funds, which could be provided by donations from companies that could then claim a tax credit against their state taxes to limit their contribution to state general revenue. The ESA amount would be 90% of average M&O. This is both a tax credit voucher and an ESA-type voucher. The Coalition for Public Schools considers this a voucher bill because there is an overt transference of taxpayer funds to private citizens.

HB 4807 (Harrison) – “Relating to the establishment of the Texas Parental Empowerment Program and an insurance premium tax credit for contributions made for purposes of that program.” As filed, the bill would create the “Texas Parental Empowerment Program,” which would use state funds and insurance premium tax credits to provide vouchers for certain eligible students. The bill would require that the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts to transfer an amount equal to average M&O expenditures per ADA in the preceding year into each eligible student’s account. Based on budgeted expenditures reported in 2021-22, this would be around $10,725. The bill also allows certain entities to receive an insurance premium tax credit equal to their contribution to the empowerment program fund or their tax liability. Total credits would be limited to $200 million in FY 2024. The bill provides a formula for total credit limits in subsequent years. The credits cannot be transferred to another taxpayer.

The bill requires that the comptroller transfer applicable amounts from the Foundation School Fund to fund accounts for eligible students who attended public school in the prior year, are entering kindergarten, or are currently participating in the program. The comptroller would rely on general revenue and contributions used to generate insurance premium tax credits to fund accounts for those students who had not previously been attending public schools. The bill allows funds deposited into these accounts to be spent on tuition and fees, textbooks, computers, tutors, therapies, curriculum for home-schooled students, transportation and more. Funds cannot be used to pay certain individuals related to the student or a member of their household. The bill allows unused funds to roll over into the following school year. Students may use previously deposited funds after graduation from high school. The bill requires that private schools provide certain notices to parents of special education students upon application.

The bill requires that the comptroller certify no more than three educational assistance organizations that would help administer the program by verifying the child’s eligibility and the use of funds in their account. The bill would also establish a parental review committee to preapprove providers eligible to accept payment from students’ program accounts. The Coalition for Public Schools considers this a voucher bill because there is an overt transference of taxpayer funds to private citizens.

Not Voucher Bills

HB 4969 and HJR 182, also on the Tuesday, have NOT been deemed vouchers by the Coalition for Public Schools. HB 4969 by Shaefer is NOT considered a voucher because those supplemental services are outside of FAPE. TASA will register support for HB 4969. HJR 182 (Harris) is also NOT considered a voucher.

HB 4969 (Schaefer) “Relating to a parent-directed supplemental services and instructional materials program for public school students.” The bill creates a parent-directed supplemental services program for current public school students. HB 4969 requires TEA to establish and administer a parent-directed program for public school students that permits parents to direct supplemental services and supplemental instructional materials for their student who meets eligibility requirements. TEA is to provide a grant to each student who is approved from funds appropriated for that purpose. The funds are to be used to purchase supplemental services and instructional materials.

TEA is permitted to designate one or more regional service centers to administer the program. TEA is also required to establish an application process and eligibility criteria. The criteria must require that the student be enrolled at a school district or open-enrollment charter school for the current school year. Students who attend a school district or open-enrollment charter school eligible for a compensatory education allotment are to be prioritized.

Money in an account assigned to a student must be used only for supplemental services, supplemental instructional materials, and paying tuition and fees as authorized by law. Supplemental services may only be provided by an agency-approved provider. The commissioner is required to permit funds to be used for tuition and fees at an institution of higher education including any unexpended funds in a student’s account at the time they graduate and for up to six years after graduation.

The agency is required to establish criteria for the agency to approve each category of provider of a professional service that is considered supplemental. The criteria must require that a provider of professional services be appropriately licensed or accredited in the state to provide such services.
School districts and open-enrollment charters that are approved may charge a fee for supplemental instructional materials or supplemental services provided to a student who would not otherwise have been provided to the student by the district or school.

A student’s ARD committee is required to develop an individualized education plan without any consideration of availability of funds for supplemental services or instructional materials. However, the ARD committee is required to provide information regarding types of supplemental services or instructional materials available and provided by agency-approved providers that a student could use funds from a supplemental services account to pay for.

Students who are awarded a grant from TEA are entitled to $1,000 or more if a greater amount is appropriated. Students may receive a grant once while enrolled in kindergarten through grade 12. A student may receive an additional grant if the legislature appropriates money for the additional grant via the appropriations act.

HJR 182 (Harris)“Proposing a constitutional amendment regarding public free schools and prohibiting certain state regulation regarding private educational settings.” HJR 182 is a constitutional amendment that would amend the state Constitution to prohibit the state from restricting the right of a parent to place their child in an educational environment outside of public schools. The amendment would also prohibit the state from regulating how education is provided in settings where the state does not provide support or maintenance. Additionally, HJR 182 would amend the Constitution to require the Legislature to ensure public oversight of the public school system.

See the hearing posting.

April 7 Editorial by Josh Cowen: Texans beware: School vouchers are bad for kids and taxpayers

TASA’s Talking Points on Vouchers

Why Vouchers are Not Right for Texas