Less than three weeks before his primary runoff election, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan directed lawmakers to study private school voucher programs in other states and determine how to further reduce property taxes.

Phelan’s list of priorities lays the potential groundwork for the next legislative session with topics such as housing affordability, access to prenatal care, workforce development and border security. The 89th Legislature is set to convene Jan. 14.

After a tense year at the capitol, the second-term speaker faces a contentious May 28 runoff against GOP challenger David Covey, an oil and gas consultant backed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton. Phelan, a southeast Texas Republican, has been heavily criticized by many members of his own party for his handling of Paxton’s impeachment, the House’s rejection of school vouchers and his decision to let Democrats lead House committees.

Patrick, who oversees the Texas Senate, released his own interim priorities last month.

The details

Phelan asked the House Public Education Committee to examine how other states use education savings accounts, commonly known as private school vouchers, and “make recommendations for a Texas program.” The controversial programs give families public money to send their children to private schools.

In November, 21 rural Republicans voted with House Democrats to block a voucher proposal, arguing it would strip critical funding from public schools and would not benefit rural communities. Gov. Greg Abbott, who championed vouchers as a “parent empowerment” program, led the charge to oust over a dozen House Republicans.

Abbott recently said voucher supporters were “on the threshold of success” after several anti-voucher Republicans were unseated or sent to tight primary runoffs.

Building on $18 billion in property tax cuts, Phelan asked the House Ways & Means Committee to consider further reducing school district property tax rates, tightening the cap on annual increases to a home’s taxable value and maintaining a $100,000 homestead exemption.

Patrick asked senators to evaluate the cost of completely eliminating some or all types of property taxes. The lieutenant governor previously appeared opposed to abolishing property taxes, arguing the concept had “no support from the Legislature or the people.”

Also of note

Phelan also directed lawmakers to review housing prices and zoning requirements “to help fulfill the dream of homeownership for more Texas families.” Patrick encouraged senators to look into similar topics, as well as homelessness and programs providing affordable housing.

Both leaders asked members to review state agencies’ involvement in Texas’ border security initiative, Operation Lone Star; ensure “sufficient resources” are available to combat crimes at the border; and study the safety and well-being of troops deployed to the border.

Lawmakers approved several billion dollars in additional funding for border operations last year.

The House should also examine local workforce education programs, road congestion and bridge safety, and the rising rates of uncertified teachers at public schools, Phelan wrote.

“In order to maintain our exceptional economic momentum, the House will continue exploring innovative strategies and solutions to keep Texas competitive on the global stage, while ensuring our workforce is prepared to support the demands of our growing, diverse economy,” Phelan said in a news release. “House committees will also work to mitigate the challenges of a booming population as well as response to natural disasters so that the state of Texas is as resilient as its people.”