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Texas House’s Version Of The Senate’s School Voucher Bill Would Reduce The Program’s Scope And Replace The STAAR Test

May 10, 2023- The Texas House education committee is planning to vote Wednesday on a new 80-page version of the Senate’s priority school voucher program proposal, which would drastically limit the scope, make changes to the state’s standardized test and remove the bill’s restriction on teaching about gender and sexual orientation.

Senate Bill 8, by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, passed the Senate last month. Its centerpiece is an education savings account program that would work like voucher programs and direct state funds to help Texas families pay for private schooling. The version of the bill approved by the Senate would be open to most K-12 students in Texas and would give parents who opt out of the public school system up to $8,000 in taxpayer money per student each year. Thee funds could be used to purchase a child’s private schooling and other educational expenses, such as textbooks or tutoring.

The House version of SB 8 would significantly roll back eligibility, wich would be limited to certain students like those with a disability, those who are “educationally disadvantages” or those who attend a campus that received a grade of D or lower in its accountability rating in the last two school years.

The House version would also require students in the program to take a state assessment test, which could potentially add a degree of accountability.

In addition, the bill would make changes to the annual stipends that families enrolled in the program get. It would give the families about $10,500 a year if their child is educationally disadvantaged and has a disability, $9,000 if their child is educationally disadvantaged and $7,500 for every other child.

It is expected that the new version of the bill won’t be open to testimony before the committee votes on it as lawmakers are making a rushed decision.

The Senate version of SB 8 severely restricted classroom lessons, campus activities and educator guidance about sexual orientation and gender identity in public and charter schools up to 12th grade, with very limited exceptions.

Lawmakers can still amend the legislation, and it’s currently unclear whether they will add back the restrictions into the final version of the bill before it comes for a vote. The lower chamber is also considering Senate Bill 1072, some of which mirrors SB 8’s language on this issue. The bill, authored by Republican Sen. Bryan Hughes of Mineola, passed out of the upper chamber earlier this month and is currently waiting for a hearing in the House Public Education Committee.

The Texas House’s version of SB 8 also eliminates a Senate provision that sought to give districts with fewer than 20,000 students $10,000 for five years for every child who enrolls in the savings account program and leaves their district. The provision was seen as a way to convince Texans in rural communities to support the bill, but they have remained largely unswayed.

In addition, this version of SB 8 also makes changes to the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, also known as STAAR. No later than the 2027-28 school years, the Texas Education Agency would need to create a new test that would be more aligned with what children learn in the classroom.

And instead of it being one test, the House version requires the TEA to spread the evaluation in three parts, given during different times of the year. Students in grades 3-8 would be required to take it.

Currently this method has already been piloted in several school districts across the state. The TSIA is currently a test colleges give to high school students to determine what classes they should be in.

In April, the House voted 86-52 for a budget amendment that kept the state from using funds to pay for school vouchers. The vote was largely symbolic but it demonstrated the widespread opposition to voucher-like programs in the lower chamber, even if support has grown in the past two years.

Democrats and rural Republicans have banded together in the past to oppose voucher-like programs as they fear they could take away money from their local school districts. Because Texas school districts receive state funds based on student attendance, they receive less money when any student leaves.


Author: Ethan Klein

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