Message to Texas House: Reject Senate HB 21 Voucher Bill That Kills House School-Funding Plan

HB 21, a good school-finance bill as it left the House, has been turned into a voucher bill by the Texas Senate. Please tell your House member to reject this bill, which has been stripped of most of the House-passed school-funding increase and now has become primarily a vehicle for diverting taxpayer dollars to unaccountable private schools. House action on this Senate hijacking of the House bill could come as early as Wednesday, May 24.

By inserting a voucher “poison pill” into HB 21 and cutting most new school funding from the bill, the Senate is trying to force the House to accept a precedent-setting voucher scheme in exchange for a small remnant of the funding increase of up to $1.9 billion approved by the House. The House should spurn this rotten deal in HB 21 and reject any future version of a voucher scheme that comes over from the Senate as well.

The “education savings account” vouchers (ESAs) for students with disabilities in the Senate version of HB 21 siphon taxpayer funds directly from public schools and divert the money to subsidize private, religious, and home schools. With Texas public schools already underfunded, Texas can’t afford this voucher scheme.

Students with disabilities in special education receiving a voucher under this Senate scheme would give up their federal protections upon exiting the public school.  This includes their rights to due process under admissions, review, and dismissal  (ARD) committees and other federal protections.

No accountability exists under ESAs. Private and religious schools that would access taxpayer dollars through this voucher program are not accountable to the state. The Senate version of HB 21 would allow these schools to receive taxpayer money without meeting the same curriculum or fiscal requirements of a Texas public school.  Texans overwhelmingly believe that schools that receive tax dollars should be accountable for how they are spent, but the schools that receive vouchers would not be accountable to taxpayers.

ESAs also violate the separation of church and state and the First Amendment.  The Senate version of HB 21 provides monies that can be used in any private or religious school. ESAs provide no disallowance for religious content of services or educational products funded with taxpayer dollars.

Please ask your House member to stand firm against the Senate version of HB 21and any other legislation that shortchanges public education and diverts scarce public funds to unaccountable private schools.