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The Senate Education Committee met Wednesday, March 22, to hear testimony on a number of bills related to vouchers (education savings accounts) and a “teachers’ bill of rights.” All bills were left pending.

Vouchers/Education Savings Accounts Testimony

The priority voucher (aka “school choice”) bill is SB 8 (Creighton), which would create education savings accounts administered by third-party entities. Other education savings accounts (ESA) bills on the committee agenda were SB 176 (Middleton), SB 2354 (Bettencourt), and SB 2483 (Paxton). These bills include slight differences related to student eligibility and funding amounts. SB 8 would create an $8,000 per year ESA with a $10,000 per student payment to districts with enrollments of 20,000 or fewer students that lose students due to taking ESAs.

Testimony on the ESA bills went past midnight, with hundreds of individuals registering positions on the bill and dozens, including San Elizario ISD Superintendent Jeannie Meza-Chavez, a TASA member and the president-elect of the Texas Council of Women School Executives (TCWSE), who stayed late into the night to deliver testimony. Meza-Chavez testified on behalf of her district in support of funding for all public schoolchildren and in opposition to vouchers. TASA and the Texas Association of Community Schools (TACS) submitted joint written testimony against the voucher provisions of SB 8. Following is an excerpt of that testimony:

“Our organizations have long opposed the use of taxpayer dollars for school vouchers, education savings grants, and other mechanisms that siphon money from Texas public schools with little or no financial or academic accountability to taxpayers, communities, or the state. We strongly recommend that lawmakers require the same accountability measures for private entities or home-school parents receiving public funding that are required of public school districts including state regulations regarding hiring, certification, curriculum, student and data privacy concerns, health and safety issues, instructional materials, and library materials (if applicable), among other things.

Those supporting the ESA bills generally shared the following talking points: parents’ right to choose the school that is best for their children; the success of vouchers in other states; the improvement of all schools due to more competition; and the need to help private schools grow so they can serve more students.

Those testifying against the voucher bills generally explained that ESA programs: spend public tax dollars with no accountability; have poor track records in other states; support religious schools with state funds; fail to serve students requiring special education services who cannot get those services in private schools; and result in an overall decrease in public education funding over time.

Some witnesses testified for and against bill language that would prohibit public schools from providing or allowing a third party to provide instruction, guidance, activities, or programming regarding sexual orientation or gender identity.

Teachers’ Bill of Rights Testimony

SB 9 (Creighton, et al.) is the main “teachers’ bill of rights” bill. Its provisions relate to the rights, certification, and compensation of public school educators and the assistance that TEA provides to public schools related to public school educators and certain allotments under the FSP. During the hearing, Senate Education Committee Chairman Brandon Creighton introduced a committee substitute for SB 9.

Much public testimony followed and included TASA member superintendents Kristin Brown, Lyford Consolidated ISD, and Sharon McKinney, Port Aransas ISD. Both testified “on” SB 9 on behalf of their school districts, pointing out unintended consequences of the bill as filed and making recommendations for the chairman to consider. TASA and TACS submitted joint written testimony on SB 9.