In November, during the fourth called special session, I offered an amendment to strike education savings accounts, also known as vouchers, from House Bill 1, the education bill. My amendment passed on a vote of 84-63. I am proud of the voucher stance 20 of my Republican colleagues and I took despite the intense pressure from our own political party. Representative Glenn Rogers HD60, stood strong for his district and the State of Texas.
I am by no means a public education expert, but I believe in my heart that using taxpayer dollars to fund an entitlement program is not conservative and is bad public policy.
Under the voucher provision of House Bill 1, the actual biennial cost to the state’s next biennium would have been as high as $7.3 billion just to provide $10,500 for each current private school student and $1,000 to each current homeschool student. Having served four terms on the House Committee on Appropriations, I can assure you, if ever vouchers pass, the Legislature will have no choice but to raise taxes. We can also kiss goodbye the notion of a reduction or elimination of school property taxes.
The Texas Education Code is an extensive, comprehensive framework of rules and laws governing tax-supported public schools. Spending taxpayer dollars to fund ‘choice’ programs without the accountability of the code undermines our constitutional and moral duty to educate and protect the nearly 5.5 million students of Texas. A better alternative would be to reduce these rules and laws governing public schools and create more local control.
An assertion has been made that I once supported vouchers given my presence at Brazos Christian School last spring. Governor Abbott’s staff asked me to introduce him at the event in my district. As a courtesy, I did so. I should note that I edited the lengthy introduction script presented to me by Governor Abbott’s staff to reflect my long-time position of supporting education as a whole in addition to praising Governor Abbott’s public education funding effort during the regular session.
House Bill 1 would have increased public school funding by over $7 billion. It would have also provided a one-time $4000 teacher retention stipend for full-time teachers, librarians, counselors, and nurses ($2000 for part-time), created a paid leave option to supplement FMLA benefits, increased Basic Allotment, increased special education funding and several grants related to it, created a teacher residency program, and offered a pathway to a six-figure salary with a focus on low-income and rural communities.
Governor Abbott knew he did not have the votes to pass vouchers, so he tried to force the House’s hand by including it in House Bill 1 – a bill he described as an “extraordinarily effective bill.” Had House Bill 1 not been pulled by the author at the direction of leadership because vouchers were no longer included, it undoubtedly would have passed the House. Governor Abbott took his ball and went home shifting his focus to retaliation at the polls.
President Ronald Reagan said, “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally – not a 20 percent traitor.” Governor Abbott should take a page out of President Reagan’s book. Instead, he is endorsing and reportedly helping to fund primary opponents running against the members of his own party who could not, in good conscience, vote for his voucher plan. Shame on you, Governor Abbott.
John Raney represents House District 14 in the Texas Legislature.
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