Senate Education Committee approves school choice bill

The Senate Education Committee last week voted to accept a controversial school choice bill that, if passed into law, would allow taxpayer dollars to be used to send kids to private or religious schools.

Committee Member Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, voted in favor of the bill, as did Committee Chairman Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, who authored the bill.

Senate Bill 3, if it became law, would create so-called education savings accounts for students whose parents or guardians elect to have them educated somewhere other than their local public school. A portion of the money that would have been given to that public school district to educate the student would instead be placed into the student’s ESA. That money could then by spent on tuition at any private or religious school.

“The purpose of Senate Bill three is to provide Texas students and their families with more educational opportunities,” Taylor said at the start of a hearing March 21 that lasted into the night, as people came from around Texas and the country to address the committee.

The majority of those who came from out of state were representatives of various national education organizations that promote such taxpayer-funded school choice systems.

Adam Peshek, representing the Florida-based Foundation for Excellence in Education urged the committee to vote in favor of the bill, telling members that the ESA system called for in Taylor’s bill most resembles school choice systems in place in Florida and Nevada. However, Peshek did not mention that Nevada’s school choice program, passed into law in 2015, was ruled unconstitutional by the Nevada Supreme Court in fall 2016, and never was put into practice.

Nevada republicans this month proposed new legislation that would create a school choice system scaled down from the program the state’s high court struck down.

“We want public funds to stay in public schools, or at the least, for any school or homeschooler receiving public funds to be held to the same accountability standards as public schools,” said Kristin Tassin, Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees president.

SB 3 bill will next go before the full Senate for a vote.


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