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The Senate Education Committee met this morning (Monday, May 22) to conduct a hearing that wasn’t called until late Sunday night. The only agenda item was the committee substitute for HB 100.

The 133-page bill, originally focused on teacher retention and pay raises, has been amended with many provisions TASA members have opposed throughout the session and diverts much-needed funding to private school vouchers.

The substitute bill:

  • adds education savings accounts (vouchers) for up to $8,000 per student from $500 million of general revenue funds (provisions start on p. 83)
  • increases the Basic Allotment by only $50
  • adds funding for charter facilities
  • allows free student transfer across district boundaries
  • mandates districts operate five-day school weeks
  • strips SBOE (elected officials) authority over SBEC (appointed membership) decisions

Chairman Brandon Creighton laid out the committee substitute, explaining that eligibility for the $8,000 ESA/voucher included in the bill included all public school students as well as private school students whose families earn up to 200% of the federal poverty level. (A family of four earning $60,000 per year is at 200% of the federal poverty level.) Creighton also said that if applications for ESAs/vouchers exceed available funding that up to two-thirds would go to students currently enrolled in campuses with C, D, and F ratings.

Sen. Jose Menendez asked a number of questions regarding the substitute language, commenting about the short time between the sub being shared and this hearing. He asked if private schools receiving ESAs/vouchers would be required under this bill to meet any new requirements, such as those related to accountability for public schools receiving taxpayer funds. Creighton answered that this bill was “not intended to put any strings” on the funding private schools would receive via ESAs/vouchers.

Menendez, who has three children, commented that if his family accepted an $8,000 ESA/voucher for each of his children, his family would receive $24,000 — much more than they pay in property taxes and “my neighbors would pay for my kids to go to private school.” He said the bill seems like “we’re just discounting private school for those who can already afford it.” Creighton answered that he has seen estimates of the funds spent on public school students exceeding $10,000 per student or more.

Sen. Royce West questioned whether parliamentary procedure had been compromised with the substitute language being added to a bill that, as engrossed by the House, did not contain an ESA/voucher provision. “Substitute language must usually be within the four corners of the bill,” he said. Creighton answered that he believed the substitute language was germane to the bill because it addresses how schools are funded. Other committee members weighed in, stating that it would ultimately be up to the parliamentarian to decide.

Testimony on CSHB 100 was largely negative, specifically due to the addition of the ESA/voucher provisions. A number of education-related organizations testified in opposition to the bill with the addition of the ESA/voucher provisions. The only favorable testimony for the bill came from private school representatives.

Creighton stated at one point in the hearing that $9 billion would be added to public education this session through various bills providing funding for safety, curriculum, etc. He said the public just hasn’t seen the details of that. Menendez later asked that Creighton provide a breakdown of that $9 billion, as it would be helpful moving forward as the session comes to a close in one week.

At 10:15 a.m., the committee voted to pass CSHB 100 out of committee with a vote of 9-3. It will now go to the full Senate.