Rep. Gina Hinojosa did not sign on to the House Select Committee’s report, instead releasing her own recommendations, outlined in the report’s appendices. Chief among her concerns: that teacher and school staff raises will once again be held hostage by private school voucher proponents.
In June 2023, Speaker Dade Phelan formed the House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment. Their charge was to consider and make recommendations for the following topics:
- Ensuring all Texas youths enjoy equal educational opportunity and the freedom to obtain a quality education, regardless of circumstance.
- Improving outcomes for Texas public school students and meaningfully supporting educators and educational institutions.
- Modernizing assessment and accountability measures for Texas schools educating K-12 students.
The Committee itself was interesting in its composition. Of the fifteen members, several are current House Public Education Committee members, including Chairman Brad Buckley (R-Salado). Also currently serving on the public education committee are:
- Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston)
- Rep. Cody Harris (R- Palestine)
- Rep. Cole Hefner (R-Mount Pleasant)
- Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin)
- Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian)
- Rep. Oscar Longoria (D-Peñitas)
- Rep. James Talarico (D-Pflugerville)
Unpacking the Legislature
Read our other breakdowns of public education issues:
Joining them on the committee are former committee members:
- Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin)
- Rep. Keith Bell (R-Forney)
- Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston)
Rounding out the group are Vice Chair Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D- San Antonio), Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls), Rep. Will Metcalf (R-Conroe), and Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano).
The Committee’s first hearings were on July 11 and 12. There was rigorous discussion in the room about some of the most salient issues facing our public schools and our profession, including:
- the special education funding gap
- improving teacher compensation
- assessment and accountability
- funding for our starving public schools and inflation
- property taxes and perverse local outcomes
- class sizes and working conditions
- parental involvement and responsibility
- charter schools
The committee published its initial report on August 11 containing a broad range of recommendations. The report also contained links to the nearly 3,000 public comments sent in on the committee’s topics.
What’s in the Report?
The report endorsed a very narrow “school voucher” or “parental choice program” that the committee cautiously suggested should be tailored to certain high-needs student populations. Participants, the committee said, should be assessed for academic outcomes. This was a sticking point throughout the regular session: voucher recipients want the money without having to demonstrate responsibility for student outcomes like public schools do. It also recommends fiscal accountability measures and that the money be drawn from General Revenue funds, not from the Foundation School Program.
The report concedes that the recommendations and goals of the Teacher Vacancy Task Force have gone largely unaddressed by the Legislature, therefore the report endorsed revisiting a number of them including:
- increase the basic allotment to offset the rising costs of inflation and require a percentage of a school district’s increase to be used to provide wage increases for support staff
- waive certification costs for hard-to-fill teacher fields such as bilingual or special education and for first time teacher applicants
- provide children of teachers with access to free Pre-K
- eliminate the TRS Retire/Rehire surcharge
- conduct an independent teacher time study to include the impact of large class sizes and student behaviors on the learning environment, discipline issues, and working conditions
What is entirely absent from the report is a specific amount of money for an increase to the basic allotment. As a reminder, we need close to a $1,000 per-student increase just to make up for inflation. The committee acknowledged that teachers and students still face tremendous stress around the STAAR test and resulting A-F accountability ratings. The balance continues to be meeting federal testing requirements while reducing the overall burden on our kids. The committee recommends requiring an annual report on the Texas Education Agency’s through-year testing pilot and considering ways to reduce the barriers to participation in the local accountability systems.
Why It Happened
It’s generally understood at the Capitol that this committee was intended to tease out the framework for a voucher that could pass the Legislature and deliver Gov. Greg Abbott his Pyrrhic victory on the subject. The results of the hearing and recommendations of the committee, however, don’t deliver any clear path forward for a voucher in the House. Members of the committee expressed a desire to deal with vouchers separately from any other issue. (That may be wishful thinking given the Senate’s history of attaching a voucher to any promising piece of legislation).
While the committee’s witness list skewed toward people and entities that favor a voucher scheme, the committee heard powerful testimony from a variety of public education witnesses, including several superintendents, citing the need to fully fund our existing system. Again, without a strong and specific recommendation for an increase in basic allotment, the nearly $4 billion sitting in the budget for education may go unspent.
What Legislators Are Saying
Even if we haven’t persuaded you to read the entire report, you should take special note of the appendices, which contain additional insight and opinions of the committee membership:
- Rep. Gary Van Deaver and Rep. Harold Dutton both put out definitive anti-voucher statements.
- Rep. Ken King reiterated his preference for a comprehensive funding package like his HB 100 from the 88(R).
- Vice-Chair Barbara Gervin Hawkins did not eschew vouchers, though she did stress the need for financial and academic accountability if they are implemented.
- Rep. Gina Hinojosa (who ultimately did not sign the report) published essentially a minority report citing failures of the committee to more directly address school finance, in particular the wages of our teachers and support staff and the needs of students receiving special education services
In direct response to the Select Committee’s report and in anticipation of another special session, House Democratic Chair Trey Martinez Fischer established the House Democratic Caucus Special Committee on Education this week. With a committee chaired by Talarico and Hinojosa and representing multiple geographies, Martinez Fischer promises an “open, honest, and transparent process that engages our constituents” on the topic of private school vouchers. “House Democrats will not waiver and will not allow the Governor to destroy our public schools,” he said in announcing the committee.
What to Expect Next
It’s hard to say what we should expect.
Depending on if and when the governor decides to call a special session, the Select Committee may not have time for another round of hearings and reports. Additionally, and depending on the actual topics of the call, there may be legislation to introduce every one of the committee’s recommendations, or none.
What is clear is that despite continued forceful public opposition to vouchers, Abbott will continue to push the issue of “school choice.” We will continue, meanwhile, to engage our public education allies in the House to shape strategy and communication for the fight ahead.