Senate Modifies School Finance Reform Bill to Include Charter Schools and Voucher-Like Program

HB 21, currently working its way through the Texas Legislature, would have finally modified school finance in Texas. The bill budgeted an extra $1.5 billion for public schools. But, according to an article this morning by the Texas Tribune, the Senate just stripped the bill of several House provisions intended to simplify funding. The Senate also cut the $1.5 billion to $530 million and put a voucher-like program in the bill favored by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.

If the House doesn’t approve HB 21 as amended by the Senate, it appears that public schools won’t even get the extra $530 million. But the Senate packed HB 21 with provisions from other bills including $100 million in funding for charter schools. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has also promised the House he would support the $530 million increase for public schools if his education savings account (aka voucher) program becomes law. According to the Tribune, Patrick has been “unsuccessfully advocating for similar voucher-like programs for the last decade.”

Ann Beeson, executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, said, “In the middle of the night, the Texas Senate voted for a voucher scheme that will rob taxpayer money from public schools and give it to private schools. What started as a good school finance bill in the Texas House turned into a voucher bill that does not help remodel our state’s school finance system.”

Follow this one closely. Austin is playing hardball with 5.2 million public school students. And it looks like a 95 mph fast ball is headed for the strike zone.

Next up for the bill? It will go to a reconciliation committee. If Patrick doesn’t get what he wants, there will likely be a special session, which no one wants.

This also follows fast on the heels of massive cuts to federal funding for the Department of Education reported in the Washington Post.

This all comes just two weeks after school board elections. Plus, the next school board meeting won’t happen until after school lets out, when parents and students head off for summer vacations. But I’m sure the timing is accidental.