INTERACTIVE: Explore how much money a school choice bill could divert from Austin-area school districts

Early in the 85th legislative session, Texas House of Representatives leaders declared that school choice initiatives would be dead upon arrival in the lower chamber, even after Senate leaders declared the private school-friendly bill a priority.

The House instead stressed fixes to the state's public school finance system, and as the session prepares to conclude, Senate members are lashing back against House bills. Once passed out of the House, House Bill 21, authored by House Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, proposed an injection of roughly $1.65 billion into public education over two years and also proposed adding additional weights to funding formulas for dyslexic students and career technical education and technology.

HB 21 received overwhelming House approval with a 132-15 vote with members of both parties singing its praises. That tune changed, however, when the bill advanced to the Senate Education Committee.

Members of the Senate committee tacked on a controversial provision that would allow special needs students to have school choice by establishing education savings accounts, which set aside state funds for these students to use outside of public schools, including in private schools.

Many of those elected officials who were initially supportive of HB 21 changed their testimony at the last minute to oppose the bill because of the school choice addition. Critics say school choice policies would cost public schools, already ailing from insufficient state funding, even more money. School choice advocates have refuted this point, saying with fewer students in the public school system, less money is needed to educate.

Advocates say schools wouldn't lose out on all funds dedicated to a student leaving via a choice program, and therefore schools would have more money. The committee substitute specifies that during the first year a student takes advantage of the savings account and is no longer enrolled in a public school district, the student would still be counted in the district's attendance formula.

This means during the first year the program is rolled out, schools wouldn't lose state funding. In fact, per the bill, districts receive money back on each student taking advantage of the savings account in their first year. That money is equal to 5 percent of the statewide maintenance and operations allotment per student, which equates to just over $450.

But after the first year a student uses this savings account to attend a private or charter school, public schools will lose state funding. The left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities issued a report Tuesday detailing how much each school district in Texas could stand to lose should the committee substitute be passed as is.

The report assumes 1 percent of special needs students will take advantage of the accounts in the first year, 2 percent in year two and 3 percent in year three. Here is how much money local school districts could lose out on in years two, three and four, per CPPP's report:



A spokesman with state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said the CPPP study failed to take into account that the money not going to public schools is benefitting the individual student.

"The study adopts a myopic view of placing the needs of the school district above those of the actual student," spokesman Matt Welch said in a statement. "The CPPP quantifies the numbers as a 'loss to public schools,' but they fail to mention that the student benefitting from an improved education is receiving the funding for education. The goal of public education is to improve the education of Texas school children, not enhance the school district."

It is unlikely House Bill 21 will pass in this form. Should the Senate vote to pass the bill, the revised wording of the bill will return to the House for final approval. The House will then vote whether to accept the Senate's changes and send the bill directly to Gov. Greg Abbott—or negotiate the changes with Senate officials in conference committee.

"We're not going to pass a bill that's got a voucher in it—and that's been a contingency for the Senate to act," said state Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian, according to a Texas Tribune report. "So I don't have a lot of faith that [HB] 21 will get to the governor's desk."

House Speaker Joe Straus released a related statement Wednesday afternoon calling the Senate's education savings account provision an attempt to subsidize private education. He said House members overwhelmingly rejected the concept in early April.


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