For at least the past four months, we’ve known a special session was coming. We’ve known that the fate of public schools will hang in the balance. We’ve known that the governor will use every dirty trick in the book to intimidate, threaten, and coerce legislators into passing a universal voucher bill that would scam Texas taxpayers out of millions of dollars while further privatizing and defunding local public schools.
Last week, we learned that special session will begin Monday, Oct. 9 at 1 p.m. This week we learned what will be on the agenda when the governor released his formal proclamation on Thursday:
- “Education Freedom”: Legislation providing education savings accounts for all Texas schoolchildren.
- “Border Security”: Legislation to do more to reduce illegal immigration by creating a criminal offense for illegal entry into this state from a foreign nation and authorizing all licensed peace officers to remove illegal immigrants from Texas.
- Legislation to impede illegal entry into Texas by increasing the penalties for criminal conduct involving the smuggling of persons or the operation of a stash house.
- Legislation to impede illegal entry into Texas by providing more funding for the construction, operation, and maintenance of border barrier infrastructure.
- “Public Safety”: Legislation concerning public safety, security, environmental quality, and property ownership in areas like the Colony Ridge development in Liberty County, Texas.
- “Ending COVID Restrictions”: Legislation prohibiting COVID-19 vaccine mandates by private employers.
Unpacking the Agenda
The top agenda item is explicit and solely dedicated to passing a taxpayer-funded voucher scheme. There is no mention of public school funding or other real education issues, like those the state’s own Teacher Vacancy Task Force documented.
Lawmakers will have little room to pass a clean funding bill within these parameters. It is much more likely that any attempt to adequately fund our public schools will be hijacked by a voucher once again. The governor’s narrowly tailored agenda has made sure of it.
It seems likely that voucher bills that previously failed to pass, like Senate Bill 8 by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), might be proposed again, though it is unclear how exactly the primary voucher bill will be structured. Notably, Rep. Jacey Jetton (R-Fort Bend) has already indicated he would file a universal voucher bill after consulting with pro-voucher groups Texas Public Policy Foundation and the American Federation for Children — two groups we spotlighted recently for their dark-money influence on the voucher debate.
Abbott’s agenda has opened the door for voucher-peddlers to dangle all sorts of carrots or employ any number of smoke-and-mirrors tricks to make their proposal seem less like the scam that it is.
But our position and that of the rest of our public education allies has not changed: There can be no deal on vouchers. No carrot, no false promise, no negotiated deal is worth the devastation that a private school voucher would inevitably wreck on Texas public schools.
Vouchers are a scam. Vouchers are not popular with Texas voters (despite the governor’s claims). Vouchers being pushed by billionaire-funded special interest groups that seek to destroy our public school system. Vouchers have been shown to be expensive and ineffective in other states where they have been implemented.
What We’re Hearing
Legislators likely will propose a compromise bill that makes concessions on other education issues. But the fact of the matter is that these supposedly narrowly tailored compromise bills will inevitably balloon into a much more expensive program, as we have seen in Arizona.
No compromise is necessary if anti-voucher legislators continue to hold strong, and we are encouraged to see that the bipartisan majority that stood against vouchers in the regular session seemingly continues its opposition to this clearly harmful policy.
When the House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment report dropped in August, legislators on both sides of the aisle explicitly stated their opposition to vouchers. Furthermore, in the lead-up to the legislative session, legislators have posted to social media and penned op-eds laying out their anti-voucher positions. In this fight against private school vouchers, it is incredibly important that all anti-voucher legislators remain active and engaged throughout the process.
It is also incredibly important that we as educators remain active and engaged, too. While politicians like Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. Ted Cruz continue to bully and publicly threaten anti-voucher legislators serving in the Texas House, legislators ultimately don’t answer to Cruz and Abbott. In a democracy, your legislators answer to you. While it might not always feel that way, your voice is hugely important to this fight.
What You Can Do
This weekend, as we prepare for this third special session, here are two key ways you can take action:
Saturday, Oct. 7, noon CT
Texas AFT is proud to join with fellow educators, parents, grandparents, students, and community allies, at the Texas Capitol for a rally to Boot Vouchers and support funding our neighborhood public schools! Get event details & RSVP online.
Can’t attend the rally? Take 2 minutes this week to call your representative and tell them that Texas public school educators and families will not accept a voucher in exchange for the funding they’re already owed. No deal. Click to call your representative.