Voucher Are Dead in the 4th Special Session

Image reads: News from the special 88th legislative session

Despite the addition of popular policy “carrots” to HB 1 and enormous pressure from Gov. Greg Abbott, we stopped vouchers in their tracks yet again today (Friday, Nov. 17). This victory was won on an 84-63 bipartisan vote in support of an amendment by state Rep. John Raney (R-College Station), which removed the Educational Savings Account (ESA) provision from the omnibus legislation. At the end of the debate, HB 1 was committed back to the House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment instead of holding a full debate and an up-or-down vote on the rest of the bill.

With this vote, vouchers are effectively dead in the fourth special session as the House is highly unlikely to hold a hearing on the Senate’s version of voucher legislation after the failure of HB 1.

The fourth special session began just hours after the third special session ended Tuesday, Nov. 7. Legislators fast-tracked an updated version of HB 1 by Chairman Brad Buckley (R-Killeen), the omnibus voucher, school funding, accountability, and teacher compensation legislation he filed in the third special session. The new version of HB 1, however, contained even more provisions intended to act as sweeteners and attract support for HB 1 from members who had thus far been opposed to vouchers.

Education Austin members prepared to testify against HB 1 during the House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment’s hearing. 

The House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment met late into the evening last Thursday, Nov. 9, hearing testimony on HB 1. The public testimony was overwhelmingly against HB 1 and mostly focused on opposition to the expansive voucher provision in the bill. Several Texas AFT members spent a long day at the Capitol to testify in opposition to vouchers and to share with legislators what they need to educate and take care of the students they serve.

The select committee passed HB 1 the following day by a vote of 10-4 despite the overwhelming public opposition. The select committee also passed major school safety funding legislation.

After the weekend, the House returned Tuesday and passed some of the worst anti-immigrant “show-me-your-papers”-style legislation in the nation. SB 4, an updated version of HB 4 from the third special session, establishes a new state crime for entering the United States “illegally” from Mexico and allows local and state law enforcement to deport undocumented immigrants. This power grab by the state government clearly raises constitutional issues, as the federal government has jurisdiction over immigration matters. In fact, Mexico issued a statement “rejecting” SB 4 on Wednesday. Texas AFT is concerned that SB 4 will increase racial profiling, facilitate the unlawful arrests of U.S. citizens, and have a chilling effect on immigrant communities and mixed-status families across Texas.

SB 4 passed by a vote of 83-61 after all efforts by House Democrats to put guardrails around the bill were defeated and a successful effort to cut off debate prematurely by state Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco). SB 4 is on its way to the governor’s desk. The House also passed SB 3, a $1.5 billion border security funding bill. SB 3, however, must have further action taken on it to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

Just yesterday, HB 1 was scheduled for a last-minute floor debate today. From the perspective of a voucher proponent, it may have seemed like positive progress that a voucher bill finally made it to the House floor, but that is not the case. Some Republican members have wanted an opportunity to take a vote and send a direct message to Abbott that he does not have the voucher votes in the Texas House.

As mentioned before, retiring Republican state Rep. John Raney offered a bipartisan amendment that struck the Educational Savings Account (ESA) provision from HB 1. This amendment passed 84-63, with 21 Republican members voting with 63 Democrats to issue the latest public rebuke of Abbott’s voucher scam.

Abbott recently stated that if legislators do not pass voucher legislation in the current fourth special session, he will call the Texas Legislature back for as many legislative sessions as it takes for something to be sent to his desk.

No matter how many special sessions it takes, we have and will continue to stand united with our allies to defeat vouchers. There is no deal on vouchers, no matter what. With this latest victory, we are more confident now than ever that public education supporters have the upper hand over the forces pushing privatization in Texas.

Thank you to the thousands of Texas AFT members who have called and emailed their legislators to demand that they protect our public schools and reject vouchers. Your continued efforts make these victories possible.