AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Fights over so-called school vouchers or school choice, border security measures and expanding COVID-19 mandate bans to the private sector are all on the agenda for the Texas Legislature’s third special session slated to start Monday.
Gov. Greg Abbott has spent considerable time this year pushing for initiatives regarding “school choice,” which would allow Texas parents to use public education funds to help pay for tuition for private or charter schools. The third-term Republican governor has said this is to allow families flexibility in choosing the best education for their children, whereas opponents say it will take away critical funding from public schools and will not be equitable.
The governor’s push for school choice has faced bipartisan roadblocks in the Texas House, whereas the measure passed swiftly with broad Republican support in the Senate during the regular legislative session.
Education savings account program faced roadblocks in House
Filed during the regular session, Senate Bill 176 was a bill that would have created an education savings account program that would have allowed parents to utilize state funds to pay for their children’s private school, online schooling or private tutors. The bill didn’t get very far, as it was left pending in the committee.
“If you are a true believer in freedom, and the power of people to choose, then you would support empowering parents with school choice,” said Mandy Drogin, campaign director at the Texas Public Policy foundation, a conservative think tank.
As a last-ditch effort, House Bill 100 was proposed in the regular session, having very different remnants in comparison to SB 176. The bill focused on enacting a voucher-like program, and while it did pass in the Senate, it failed to get anywhere in the House.
The opposition against school choice is shared amongst most Democratic state legislators and some rural Republicans who worry funds could be stripped from some rural districts that do not have private alternatives.
“This is going to destroy public education in the state of Texas,” Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, told Nexstar in September. “I’m never going to be in support of sending our precious taxpayer dollars to unaccountable private schools that don’t have to meet any of the requirements that our public schools have to meet.”
Abbott’s agenda notably referenced Colony Ridge, a residential subdivision north of Houston that has become a target of conservative figures who claim it is harboring undocumented immigrants.
The governor calls for “legislation concerning public safety, security, environmental quality, and property ownership in areas like the Colony Ridge Development in Liberty County, Texas.”
“With thousands of illegal aliens crossing into the United States daily, they have to be going somewhere,” Texas Scorecard’s Michael Quinn Sullivan said on social media Wednesday. “It appears Colony Ridge is offering them a home.”
There is not yet evidence to confirm the concerns that Colony Ridge protects or preys on undocumented residents. Both Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have stopped short of making such claims, but Abbott promised that legislative hearings will look into the concerns.
Another item on the agenda the governor is calling for is a bill prohibiting private employers from requiring employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine or booster. This has been a priority for many conservatives, who believe measures in the regular session did not go far enough.
“The Texas House passed a budget that included a rider that made it illegal,” Rep. Brian Harrison, R-Midlothian, told Nexstar on Wednesday. “Texas should be leading the nation in the defense of medical freedom. But the Texas COVID Vaccine Freedom Act — which would have finally put an end to these tyrannical COVID vaccine mandates — was passed by the Senate. [Speaker] Dade Phelan and his leadership team killed that on the floor.”
Opponents say the government should not make policy decisions for private employers.
The third special session will begin on Monday, Oct. 9 at 1:00 PM.