This week, Texas House members took a bold stance against backroom meetings, shady deals, and private school vouchers.
With less than 24 hours notice to relevant stakeholders and with no public posting of the bill language, House Public Education Committee Chairman Brad Buckley (R-Killeen) moved to hold a late-night hearing Tuesday to vote out a private school voucher bill without a public hearing or any opportunity for public comments.
The voucher bill, SB 8 by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), was sent to the committee more than one month ago by the Senate, but the version passed by the Senate is significantly different from the 80-page version Chairman Buckley has introduced to his House committee.
Essentially, Buckley replaced the language of SB 8 with an entirely different bill, committee substitute for SB 8 (CSSB 8). This new 80-page version has still not been posted online for all Texans to see, but we’ve linked it on our website for you.
If you read it, you’ll notice that it would not only institute the largest private school voucher scheme in the nation, but it would also significantly increase the amount of standardized testing public school students must endure.
While Buckley claims that each component is drawn from other bills that have received public hearings, there are certain components of the bill, notably relating to standardized testing, that are entirely new and give significant new authority to the governor’s appointed commissioner of education.
In a surprise move to ensure some public transparency about SB 8, Rep. Ernest Bailes (R-Shepherd) on the House floor opposed Buckley’s motion to suspend the House rules so the Public Education Committee could meet at night with 30 minutes’ notice and vote on CSSB 8, a multi-billion dollar voucher scheme.
“This is not the right way to do this,” Bailes said, in objecting to Buckley’s motion for the committee to meet. “Our kids matter in the state of Texas, and they are better than backroom, shady dealings, which is what this is right here.”
The Texas House agreed, voting against Buckley’s motion 65-76 and denying the committee the chance to rush the vote on CSSB 8. Notably, a majority of the members of the House Public Education Committee voted against Buckley’s motion.
This rejection came after 48 hours of dogged advocacy from public school employees and parents. Between Monday evening, when we received news of Buckley’s plan and the new text of CSSB 8, and Wednesday evening, our members and allies sent more than 40,000 e-letters to members of the House Public Education Committee and flooded their Capitol phone lines.
If Chairman Buckley and voucher proponents thought they could sneak this bill past public education advocates, they were wrong.
What’s in this bill
There are two main parts to this new 80-page bill: standardized testing and a voucher.
It’s clear that proponents of this bill believe they can gather support for it by mischaracterizing what the bill does and marketing it as an elimination of the STAAR test. CSSB 8 does not eliminate STAAR. In fact, it would increase the amount of standardized testing our students must endure, from 20 tests to 48, which would take place throughout the school year.
According to an analysis of the bill by Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA), students in grades 3-8 would move from taking STAAR once a year to a test (to be determined later) three times a year.
Elementary and middle school students would go from 15 tests to 42 tests. That is almost three times as many tests, with no promise they will be shorter, are necessary, or even appropriate.
High schoolers would go from five end-of-course assessments, only three of which are required by federal law, to six tests.
The link between these accountability changes and CSSB 8’s proposed voucher? Students using a voucher to attend a private school will be required to participate in these same tests, though their private-school counterparts will not.
Students using a voucher to attend a private school would be required to leave their schools during testing windows to be assessed. How this would work, in practical terms and with any degree of social and emotional care for students, is not laid out in any detail.
All educationally disadvantaged students and students with disabilities including students already attending private schools would be eligible for the voucher. The voucher also applies to students who attended a school district campus that received an overall performance rating of D or lower under the state A-F accountability system for one of the two most recent school years for which the campus received a rating. The siblings of a child participating in the program are also eligible.
The bill would allow an eligible student to have a voucher equivalent to the resources provided in public schools, which could be tens of thousands of dollars.
Unlike the Senate version of the bill, CSSB 8 does not provide a $10,000 five-year “hold harmless” for districts with fewer than 20,000 students. The absence of any sort of “hold harmless” guarantees that local public schools will lose funding, possibly billions of dollars over the next biennium.
CSSB 8 would not provide state or federal protections or guarantee the same level of funding for students with special education needs and even requires a warning to parents.
What’s happening next
The House Public Education Committee will hold a “hearing” at 8 a.m., Monday, May 15, on SB 8. The hearing will include “invited testimony only” and will not include opportunities for public testimony, despite the wide-reaching implications of the bill.
Instead, Texas AFT and our education allies will deliver the public testimony we were not invited to give in a press gathering at the Capitol on Monday morning.
What you can do this weekend
No. 1: Call the members of the House Public Education Committee and tell them to vote no on SB 8.
Now, this week, we heard many reports of unreachable phone lines in the Capitol for some of these committee members. To help make sure they hear your valuable feedback, we have also included the phone numbers for their district offices below.
|House Public Education Committee Member||Capitol Office Phone Number||District Office Phone Number|
|Chairman Brad Buckley||512-463-0684||254-947-5026|
|Vice Chair Alma Allen||512-463-0744||713-776-0505|
|Rep. Steve Allison||512-463-0686||512-463-0686|
|Rep. Charles Cunningham||512-463-0520|
|Rep. Harold Dutton||512-463-0510||713-692-9192|
|Rep. Cody Harris||512-463-0730||903-731-4005|
|Rep. Brian Harrison||512-463-0516||972-923-0264|
|Rep. Cole Hefner||512-463-0271||903-882-3254|
|Rep. Gina Hinojosa||512-463-0668|
|Rep. Ken King||512-463-0736||806-323-8870|
|Rep. Oscar Longoria||512-463-0645||956-580-6944|
|Rep. Matt Schaefer||512-463-0584||903-592-0900|
|Rep. James Talarico||512-463-0821|
No. 2: Send another letter to committee members.
Even if you’ve already emailed these representatives earlier in the week, it’s time to do so again. They need to understand that a hearing without public testimony is no hearing at all.
No. 3: Submit a comment on SB 8 online.
There may be no public testimony in the hearing, but you can still submit a public comment on the bill through the House’s online portal. Not sure how to do so? Download our how-to guide or watch this quick walk-through: