Senate Committee Okays Voucher Bill

Split Vote Signals Fight Ahead: The Senate Education Committee by a vote of seven to three on Thursday approved a committee substitute for SB 3, the voucher bill by committee chair Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). The outcome in committee came as no surprise, considering that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had stacked the committee this year with known voucher backers. The vote came before the committee even received an official cost estimate for the bill–but not before both Republican and Democratic senators teased out an acknowledgment that the bill would carry a sizable price tag.

Voting against the voucher bill were Republican Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo and Democratic Sens. Royce West of Dallas and Carlos Uresti of San Antonio. Voting for the bill, besides author Larry Taylor, were Republican Sens. Paul Bettencourt of Houston, Bob Hall of Canton, Donald Huffines of Dallas, Bryan Hughes of Mineola, and Van Taylor of Plano, plus Democrat Eddie Lucio of Brownsville. Absent on this vote was Sen. Donna Campbell, Republican of New Braunfels.

Sen. Seliger made a strong case against the bill in his remarks before the vote was cast. He said senators had been told “there is no more money for this budget” again and again in budget talks this session, yet this bill apparently would carry the largest fiscal cost of any bill not vetted through the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee. In other bills, Seliger added, the Senate has recognized the importance of accountability, yet in SB 3 “there are no accountability standards” for “what is taught and how it is taught” in private schools that would receive state funding. He also noted that the bill would allow state spending in support of religious indoctrination in private schools.

The critique from Seliger was a foretaste of the debate to come when the bill reaches the full Senate and even more serves as a preview of the reception awaiting SB 3 should it reach the House, where voucher legislation has failed session after session for more than 20 years. As this fight unfolds, our role is clear–keep those messages coming to lawmakers against SB 3 and any similar bills that would steer state funding to unaccountable private schools at a time of state-imposed underfunding and budget stringency for public schools.