AUSTIN (Nexstar) — State Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), chair of the Senate Committee on Education, filed Senate Bill 8 Friday evening, giving a detailed look into top Republicans’ priority to use state money to subsidize private education.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick chose Senate Bill 8 to carry one of his top 30 priorities of “empowering parental rights — including school choice.” Gov. Greg Abbott has advocated for creating state-funded “education savings accounts” that will give money to Texans to pay for education-related expenses, including private school tuition.
Creighton said the goal is to provide as much as $8,000 to families with education savings accounts.
“I think we’re in a different day and time in the outlook on educational opportunities than we even were five years ago. And I think that’s why there’s been a grass fire across this nation for parental choice and educational empowerment,” Creighton said. “This is education freedom, this is making sure that the state of Texas falls in line where we should be leading.”
“We’ve seen [education savings accounts] work very effectively in other states, and we’ve also already seen them work here in the state of Texas,” Abbott told a crowd in Tyler Thursday night, referring to state-subsidized tuition for special needs students. “What we want to do this session is expand that program so that every parent will have the ability to choose the education that is best for their child.”
The plan has faced stark opposition from Republicans and Democrats alike.
“Taking money out of the public school system to help a few that already have more choices than the kids that I represent do, I think it’s just categorically wrong. I’m for all kids in Texas, not just the ones that live next to a private school,” said State Representative Ken King (R-Canadian), who sits on the House Public Education Committee.
King argues private school subsidies will help only urban and suburban students at the expense of his rural constituents because rural areas have fewer or no private schools. He is also skeptical that private schools would want state money because that may subject them to state requirements.
“When you ask a private school to take the STAAR test or participate in the A-F accountability system or take their proportionate number of our special education students, I don’t think they’re going to be interested in a voucher because those things would eat up whatever they made off the voucher,” he said.
House Democrats are also opposed to any such plan.
“We are very laser focused right now on increasing our investments in public education, stopping the defunding of education through private school vouchers, and to make sure that we’re paying our teachers and educators living wages,” House Democratic Caucus Chair Trey Martinez-Fischer said.
Creighton said funding for education savings accounts will not come from the state’s public education budget. He said the state can both fully fund public education and fund this program.
“We are all fully intending to lift up public schools with the funding they need and also provide education opportunities to those that need it most. And those can reconcile,” Creighton said. “Look, anyone that ever said that looking at education savings accounts or other education opportunities for our kids is something that attacks public schools, I think that’s just an incredibly divisive, untrue, unnecessary narrative that shouldn’t be fostered by anyone.”
Abbott dismisses these critiques by comparing them to the criticism of charter schools in Texas.
“The concerns that have been raised are really a repeat of what was raised twenty years ago,” Abbott said in Tyler. “After twenty years of charter schools with more than 350,000 students in charter schools across Texas, schools are not being defunded.”