Governor Abbott Threatens Special Session if Texas School Choice Senate-Version Bill is Not Passed

In the final weeks of the session, the Governor pushes for school choice expansion amidst opposition from education advocacy groups.

Photo by Felipe Vieira / Unsplash

Governor Greg Abbott of Texas has urged lawmakers to pass the Senate version of school choice or face a special session. In a statement released Sunday, Abbott emphasized that parents and their children deserve an expansion of school choice closer to the Senate version or the original House version of the Senate bill. The current 88th Legislative Session has only two weeks remaining.

School choice refers to programs that allow public education funds to follow students to their preferred school, including private, religious, and home-school options. Texas Republicans are partial to a state-operated education savings account (ESA) program. Senate Bill 8, a major priority for Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, would grant families $8,000 in taxpayer money per student annually through ESAs. The bill features restrictions on classroom lessons, campus activities, and educator guidance concerning sexual orientation and gender identity up to the 12th grade, and was passed by the Senate 18-13 in April.

With time running out, the House has presented its versions of the bill which significantly limit the scope of school choice. The new House version allows only select student demographics to qualify, such as those with a disability, those from low-income backgrounds, or those attending a poorly rated school. In contrast, the Senate version allows all of Texas' 5.5 million public and charter school students to qualify.

Governor Abbott has expressed his disapproval of the House's latest version, claiming that it provides little in the way of meaningful school choice. While many Republicans favor school choice, some teacher and education advocacy groups oppose the bill. Critics argue that school choice will divert necessary funds from public schools without proper oversight on private schools and adherence to federal and state protections for students with disabilities. Instead, they call for increased funding for public schools to ensure no students attend failing schools.

Ovidia Molina, president of the Texas State Teachers Association, criticized the state's school choice direction, stating that the state is wasting money instead of investing in children and raising teacher and staff pay. As the final weeks of the session approach, the future of school choice expansion in Texas remains uncertain as lawmakers wrestle with the strategies presented by both the Senate and the House.