Texas lawmakers will continue their series of legislative overtimes Nov. 7, Gov. Greg Abbott announced. The Republican governor directed lawmakers to approve a voucher-like program that would help families pay for private education, increase funding for public schools and create a state penalty for illegal immigration during the fourth special legislative session of the year.

The Texas House was scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Nov. 7—just hours after they adjourned from the third special session. Abbott has vowed to keep lawmakers in Austin until they pass private school vouchers, his top priority.

“I am immediately calling lawmakers back [to] complete their critical work to empower Texas parents to choose the best education pathway for their child while providing billions more in funding for Texas public schools and continuing to boost safety measures in schools,” Abbott said in a news release. “We must pass laws that will enhance the safety of all Texans by increasing funding for strategic border barriers and mirroring the federal immigration laws President Joe Biden refuses to enforce.”

What you need to know

Vouchers, also known as education savings accounts, face steep opposition in the House, with Democrats and rural Republicans united against various forms of the program.

Killeen Republican Rep. Brad Buckley, the chair of the Texas House Public Education Committee, filed a 177-page bill Nov. 7 that would create a voucher program, boost funding for public schools and adjust the public school accountability system.

In a Nov. 3 letter to lawmakers, Buckley said he hoped the legislation would be “a beacon of educational excellence for the rest of the nation.”

What they’re saying

It is unclear if the latest proposal has enough support to pass the House.

Rep. Ernest Bailes, R-Shepherd, said Oct. 31 a voucher program would undermine 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 told Community Impact. “So [if] we work against that, essentially, we're working against our kids in the state of Texas.”

House Democrats emphasized they would not vote for a voucher bill, even with public education provisions.

“​​This Legislature has systematically underfunded public education in this state for decades,” Rep. James Talarico, D-Austin, said at a news conference. “And now they want to pass a voucher scam that will take money out of our underfunded schools, schools that are meant for everybody, to subsidize the private schooling of the wealthy few.”

Legislative impasse

The Republican-led Legislature also could not reach an agreement on immigration policies pushed by the governor during the third special session. A bill that would have allowed local and state police to arrest, jail and deter undocumented immigrants and a proposal to set aside $1.5 billion to continue building a wall at the Texas-Mexico border each fell victim to tensions between House Speaker Dade Phelan and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the Texas Senate.

Lawmakers sent two bills to the governor’s desk to wrap up the session. Senate Bill 4 would increase mandatory minimum sentences for smuggling humans and harboring undocumented migrants in “stash houses,” while SB 7 would prohibit private employers from requiring their employees, contractors or applicants to be vaccinated against COVID-19.