Leander ISD officials approved the district’s legislative priorities for a special session starting Oct. 9 focusing on school choice.

The board of trustees voted to oppose the use of public funds for private schooling, support increases in school funding and support local control of school districts at an Oct. 5 meeting.

“We are adamantly opposed to public education dollars going to private schools. That erodes public education,” LISD Superintendent Bruce Gearing said in an interview with Community Impact. “That is very dangerous for the economy of the state. I think it's very dangerous for the future leadership of the state. I think it's very dangerous for our country.”

What you need to know

Texas lawmakers will reconvene for a third special session Oct. 9 to address a form of school choice known as education savings accounts, or ESAs, which are similar to school vouchers. If legislation is passed, education savings accounts would allow parents to receive taxpayer dollars to pay for private school tuition and other educational expenses.

Days before the session was set to begin, the LISD board voted to oppose diverting public funds to private schools in any form, including school vouchers and education savings accounts, as it would “further diminish the already inadequately funded public schools,” according to the resolution.

Place 1 board member Trish Bode gave the following reasons for opposing the education savings account program:
  • ESAs would take funding away from public schools.
  • There is no conclusive evidence that ESAs improve academic outcomes.
  • Private schools do not have to meet the same academic, community and governance standards as public schools.
  • Private schools are not required to report performance measures like test scores.
  • It may take weeks for ESA expenditures to be approved.
  • The state has provided little clarity on what ESAs would address.
  • ESAs could become a costly program as it has rapidly expanded once implemented in other states.
What else?

District officials are asking state leaders to increase funding per student with an adjustment for inflation and raise special education funding.

The priorities state the basic allotment per student, which has not increased since 2019, is $4,000 less than the national average, according to Raise Your Hand Texas. Last school year, the district spent $33 million beyond what it was allocated by the state for special education, leaving less money for other district needs, Gearing said.

“We are obligated to and committed to ourselves meeting the needs of each and every one of our children, but what that means is that that $33 million comes out of the general fund and cannot be used to fund teacher raises or extra positions or any of those other needs that the school district has,” Gearing said.

Additionally, the district will advocate against the erosion of local control by the Texas Education Agency. Gearing said the Texas Legislature has empowered the agency to usurp authority from school boards that are elected by community members.

In September, the district joined a lawsuit against the TEA after it proposed retroactively applying new accountability rules in a way that would lower some districts' A-F ratings despite student performance improving.

What's next?

LISD board members will advocate for these priorities at the State Capitol as the special session begins, board Vice President Anna Smith said.

“Monday is coming,” Smith said. “These are your legislative priorities as a board, so you know what to do.