Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from Gov. Greg Abbott and Rep. Ernest Bailes, R-Shepherd.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Oct. 31 he had reached a deal with Texas House leadership to create an education savings account program and increase funding for public schools.

Education savings accounts, a voucher-like program that would give families taxpayer money to pay for private school tuition, is one of Abbott’s top priorities. Voucher proposals have stalled in the House due to opposition from Democrats and many rural Republicans.

Abbott’s announcement came three weeks into the third special legislative session of the year, which ends Nov. 7. The governor has threatened to keep lawmakers in Austin for a fourth special session if they do not approve a voucher program and other policies on his agenda.

What you need to know

All K-12 students would be eligible for the education savings account program, Abbott said in a news release. Families who participate in the program would receive about $10,400 per student.

The plan would invest “billions more in public education funding” for teacher pay raises, school safety and special education. Statewide testing requirements for public schools would be altered, while students who receive money from the voucher program would also take an exam.

Opponents of voucher legislation have expressed concerns about a lack of accountability, including standardized testing and financial transparency requirements, for private schools that receive taxpayer funds.

“We are on track to ensure there will not be another special session,” Abbott told reporters at a Nov. 1 news conference.

Abbott said he expected House lawmakers to file a new education bill Nov. 1 that would “address the concerns [raised by] local school districts... by families who are desperately looking for ways to improve the education for their children.” The House is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Nov. 1.

What they're saying

Although Abbott touted an “agreement” with House leadership, House Speaker Dade Phelan did not confirm whether a deal had been made.

Cassi Pollock, a spokesperson for Phelan’s office, said in a statement the speaker “looks forward to having robust discussions on school funding, teacher pay and other critical education issues with his House colleagues. All members will have the opportunity to make their voices heard.”

Rep. Ernest Bailes, R-Shepherd, told Community Impact he did not think Abbott’s plan would sway rural Republicans who have voted against similar legislation.

“If it was [Abbott’s] intention to fully fund public schools, take care of our kids’ safety and to support our teachers through teacher pay raises, that would have been on his initial call, not held captive until we got his political win of a voucher [program],” Bailes said.

The governor’s plan appears broader than bills proposed by the House and Senate, which would prioritize low-income families and students with disabilities for voucher funds. Abbott said his proposal, which had not been filed as legislation Oct. 31, would create a “universal” voucher program.

What’s next?

It is unclear if Abbott’s plan has the support to pass the House. The Republican-led chamber has not scheduled a hearing on any education bills, including vouchers, during the current special session.

Nov. 7 is the deadline for lawmakers to vote on legislation during the third legislative overtime.

Texas House Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, criticized Republicans for waiting to discuss teacher pay raises in a statement posted to X, formerly known as Twitter.

“Democrats have known since day-one of the regular and special session: our teachers need a pay raise,” Martinez Fischer said. “Unlike Republicans, it hasn’t taken House Democrats 280 days to realize that raising teacher pay is a priority.”

Other voucher proposals have failed in the House due to a lack of votes.

Bailes said a voucher program would “without a doubt” harm public schools in his community, which does not have any private schools.

“In my rural area, public education is the only avenue that most kids have to get out of a cycle of poverty and to excel and better their lives,” Bailes said. “So [if] we work against that, essentially, we're working against our kids in the state of Texas.”

“The bipartisan pro-public education majority in the Texas House will defeat this voucher scam just like we have every single time since the first voucher was proposed in 1957,” Austin Reps. James Talarico and Gina Hinojosa said in a statement on X.

During an Oct. 31 news conference, some House Republicans said the chamber could not accept Abbott’s expanded special session call or consider a voucher bill because too many Democrats were absent from the Capitol.

“The will of the people will be subverted [and] hijacked by our Democratic colleagues refusing to come to work,” Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, said.

The House did not take any action Oct. 31 due to the absence of a quorum. Nearly half of the 149-member chamber was absent, while House rules state that two-thirds of the chamber must be present to conduct business.