The fourth special session has been an exercise in persistence. This special session started slowly, but, over the course of several weeks, picked up pace and then reached a climax on Friday, Nov. 17, a milestone for nearly a year’s worth of advocacy against vouchers.
Chairman Brad Buckley (R-Killeen) crafted an omnibus bill (HB 1) in the fourth special session that included vouchers, accountability reform, and some additional school funding. He held a hearing on his bill in the House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity & Enrichment on Thursday, Nov. 9. Texas AFT members turned out to testify, stating unequivocally that there is no deal on vouchers that they will support, no matter what incentives are attached. They also shared with their elected officials the actual support they need in their classrooms to help their students succeed. A substantial number of witnesses registered in opposition to HB 1, and the opposition greatly outnumbered the support for the bill.
HB 1 was fast-tracked, though, and voted out of the committee the following day. It was quickly scheduled for debate on the House floor on Friday, Nov. 17.
Buckley opened the full House debate on HB 1 with an amendment to his bill, a “perfecting” amendment making changes to the voucher program. This amendment opened the door for voucher opponents. Rep. John Raney (R-Bryan) then introduced an amendment to Buckley’s amendment, which struck the entirety of Article 6 from HB 1, removing the language that contained the bill’s expansive education savings account (ESA) provision. This amendment passed on a bipartisan vote of 84-63.
Vouchers were effectively dead in this special session after the vote on Raney’s amendment, but to make the rejection final and prevent the possibility of vouchers being resurrected by a parliamentary move called a “motion to reconsider,” Rep. Four Price (R-Amarillo) put the final nail in vouchers’ coffin with a motion to prohibit reconsideration of Raney’s amendment. Price’s motion was also approved by a bipartisan majority.
Raney, Price, and every member who voted with the bipartisan coalition deserve recognition and thanks for protecting public schools by voting to remove vouchers from HB 1. You can send an e-letter to thank all 84 legislators who voted against vouchers with Texas AFT’s online tool.
Unfortunately, both Price and Raney have announced that they are not running for re-election, as have several other members of the pro-public education majority. Further, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he is endorsing 58 of the House Republicans who voted against Raney’s amendment to remove vouchers from HB 1.
Abbott has promised to continue his campaign for “school choice” in the Legislature and at the ballot box. For now, it is unclear whether or not he will call a fifth special session to push for education savings accounts, but we will resist Abbott’s efforts to destroy public education by privatization for as many special sessions as it takes to defeat his voucher scam.
As for the ballot box, the fourth special session has overlapped with the candidate filing period for the March primary, which runs from Nov. 11 through Dec. 11. We must maintain the energy we have used to defeat vouchers to elect pro-public education legislators because every seat makes a difference.
Unfortunately, the fourth special session was not a total victory as Republicans united to pass hateful and unnecessary anti-immigrant legislation. SB 4 is a new “show me your papers”-style immigration enforcement bill that grants local law enforcement the ability to enforce federal immigration law. SB 4 passed both chambers of the Texas Legislature and was sent to the governor to be signed into law.
SB 3, meanwhile, would allocate $1.5 billion to the construction of a border wall. While the House passed SB 3 with amendments, the Senate has not taken action on the amended version. The Senate must either accept the changes made to the bill by the Texas House or appoint a conference committee to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill before time runs out in the fourth special session.
The fourth special session ends Dec. 6, but there are no signs of movement on vouchers or bills addressing any other issues.
The decisive vote to kill vouchers in the fourth special session is a huge victory over Abbott and the dark-money forces pushing privatization in Texas. We are taking a moment to celebrate this achievement, but the work continues. We remain prepared for the possibility of another special session and are focused on supporting pro-public education legislators in their primary elections.