The school choice debate has heated up in the Texas House and Senate. A variety of bills have recently been introduced in both houses but it appears that SB8 and its companion House Bill HB5261 are the frontrunners and are receiving the most backing from Governor Abbott and Lt. Governor Patrick.
The key proposal in both bills is the establishment of Educational Savings Accounts or ESAs. ESAs allow parents to establish a “savings account” which is funded by the State’s portion of school funding – projected to be between $8000-$10,000 per student – being paid into the savings account rather than being paid to school districts. A student’s parents are then allowed to spend the money in the ESA on a variety of education related expenses including tuition, books and tutoring. Currently ESAs are available in 11 states and some form of school “voucher” or educational choice program is available to parents in a total of 32 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
The basic idea behind ESAs and other school choice programs is that state provided education money follows the student, not the district or, as some would say, these programs fund the student, not the school district.
As previously reported, Ector County residents voted over 91% in favor of “Proposition 9” in the March 2022 Republican primary election. Prop 9 stated “Texas parents and guardians should have the right to select schools, whether public or private, for their children, and the funding should follow the student.” Despite this overwhelming show of support, the ECISD School Board recently issued a list of the District’s “Legislative Priorities” with one item voicing complete opposition to any type of school choice legislation.
On March 23, 2023 Governor Abbott was in Odessa to promote his school choice initiatives by holding a rally in the gymnasium of First Odessa Academy which was attended by hundreds of parents and students. Senator Kevin Sparks, who represents Ector County, shared the stage with Governor Abbott and voiced his support for Abbott’s “Parent Bill of Rights” which includes, among other items, educational savings accounts. Representative Landgraf was noticeably absent from the meeting and sources at the State Capital indicate that Landgraf has been unwilling to support Abbott’s proposed “Parent Bill of Rights”, in particular ESAs.
“Texas and Ector County parents have grown increasingly concerned about both the quality of the public schools and the content that students may be exposed to in ECISD schools.” stated Ector County GOP Chairwoman Tisha Crow who also represents Senate District 31 on the State Republican Executive Committee (SREC). “Unfortunately, public schools in Texas, including in Ector County, have lagged for years in providing the quality of education that parents have desired as more and more funding has been funneled to school administrative costs and more resources have been targeted towards ‘teaching to the test’. It’s been clear for years that parents want options for their kids other than public schools but most parents have simply not been able to afford any alternatives and charter schools often have huge waiting lists for admission. Add to that the recent concerns about what is being taught – there were recent reports on Facebook about students at ECISD Wilson & Young Middle School being exposed to reading passages and videos promoting transgenderism – and anyone can clearly see the need for other educational opportunities for Texas students across the state.”
Odessa Headlines twice reached out to Representative Landgraf for comment on the ESAs and Governor Abbott’s “Parent Bill of Rights”: once by email directly to Landgraf’s office on March 24, 2023 and then again a few days later via the Texas House of Representatives website. In our email we asked Landraf the following questions:
- Are you in support of the four “pillars” of Governor Abbott’s Parent Bill of Rights? https://www.gregabbott.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Parents.ONEPAGER.pdf
If not can you please explain any objections that you have to the ideas promoted in this “Bill of Rights”?
2. Are you in support or opposed to Governor Abbott’s call for Education Savings Accounts – specifically as envisioned in SB8 which currently seems to be the front running bill in the Senate? HB5261 appears to be the companion House bill. Will you be supporting HB5261 or any similar legislation in the House which provides for Educational Savings Accounts for Texas parents and students. In the past you stated in non-specific language that you are unsure about “school choice/voucher” programs. With the introduction of specific legislation that is now before the House and Senate and being pushed by Governor Abbott where do you now stand? Can you please detail any specific recommendations/concerns/objections to Educational Savings Accounts as envisioned in currently filed legislation? While several bills have been filed in both the House and Senate regarding ESAs it appears that SB8 and HB5261 are the front-runners at this time so we would ask you to specifically comment on your support/opposition to HB5261.
3. ECISD published a list of “Legislative Priorities” https://www.ectorcountyisd.org//cms/lib/TX50000506/Centricity/Domain/125/2023%20Legislative%20Priorities_jan6.pdf one point of which was listed as “OPPOSE THE DEVELOPMENT OF VOUCHER PROGRAMS OR ANY ACTION SIMILAR IN NAME OR NATURE”. This stance by the local school district was in opposition to the last vote in Ector County via Prop 9 in the March 2022 Republican primary where 91% of Ector County voters voted in favor of the proposition which read “Texas parents and guardians should have the right to select schools, whether public or private, for their children, and the funding should follow the student.”
Can you please comment on whether you are in support of the ECISD’s priorities which oppose “school vouchers” or rather you are more swayed in your thinking by the 91% of Ector County voters which voted in favor of the “funding following the student.”?
To date, Odessa Headlines has received no response from Representative Landgraf and we again call on him to let Ector County voters know where he stands on these important issues.
“I am currently the committee chair on the statewide SREC committee that is promoting the school choice priority that was voted on by the Texas Republican Party at last year’s state convention. I can tell you that parents across the state want the way we fund education changed to a system where our tax dollars are tied to the student and not the district. Parents are demanding choice and are sick of the excuses that continue to come from our elected officials who are being influenced by the big bucks that are flowing into their accounts from special interests who want to keep our students trapped in a mediocre public school system. This is the year that we free our students and parents to spend state education dollars in the way they see fit to deliver the best outcomes for their children. The SREC is doing everything we can to promote what 91% of Ector County residents have voted and said they want. We encourage everyone to contact Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Patrick, State Senator Sparks, and State Representative Landgraf and tell them to vote for school choice.”
You can contact your state officials with the following information:
Governor Greg Abbott
Lt Governor Dan Patrick
State Senator Kevin Sparks
Representative Brooks Landgraf