AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As the third legislative session lapses without movement to increase public school funding or establish Gov. Greg Abbott’s priority of education savings accounts, lawmakers are reviewing a new proposal they plan on debating if and when the governor calls them back for a fourth special session.
State Rep. Brad Buckley, the Fort Worth Republican who chairs the powerful Public Education Committee in the House, shared a draft overview of a bill he intends to file in the next special session. He says the bill “has been shaped by extensive discussion between House Members, the Governor’s Office, and key education stakeholders over the past several months.”
“In the likely event that Governor Abbott calls us back into session… my intent is to file this bill at the earliest opportunity,” Rep. Buckley said in a letter to House colleagues.
It is possible the Governor starts another 30-day legislative session as soon as Wednesday.
Here are three major highlights from the latest plan for education:
More money for Education Savings Accounts
Rep. Buckley’s proposal would establish a program to subsidize private education expenses for families wanting to move their children out of public schools. Each child would be eligible for approximately $10,500 — about 75% of the public schools’ average per-student funding.
That is about 30% more than the Senate’s plan allocates to education savings accounts — the upper chamber passed legislation giving each child $8,000.
The House also opens the program to every student — even students already in private school. The Senate’s original version offered the program only to students who were enrolled in public school the previous year.
Under the House plan, students would be prioritized based on need and family income, with the first pick offered to children with disabilities and in families with a total household income at or below 400% of the federal poverty line.
More money for public schools and teachers
Currently, all public schools receive $6,160 for every student in average daily attendance — that’s known as the “basic allotment.” The House’s latest proposal would increase the basic allotment to $6,700. It would also establish permanent inflation adjustments every other year, beginning in 2027.
Full-time teachers, nurses, counselors, and librarians would receive a one-time $4,000 bonus in the first year after this plan would be implemented. Part-time employees in the same positions would receive $2,000.
The plan also increases the money available for high-performing teachers under the Teacher Incentive Allotment. Currently, nationally “acknowledged” teachers are not eligible for any additional incentive money. The new plan would offer them three thousand to nine thousand dollars, and the scale increases as the teacher receives greater acknowledgements and certifications.
One of the chief criticisms of an education savings account program is that private school students are not subject to the same level of accountability that ensures they are on track to meet state standards.
Rep. Buckley’s proposal would require students who accept an ESA to take the STAAR or another “national norm-reference test,” putting the responsibility on the parent to register their child for the exam. Students who do not perform satisfactorily for two years in a row would be disqualified from taking the money.
For public schools, the plan puts a pause on accountability for the current 2022-2023 school year, meaning they will not receive the usual A-F rating from the Texas Education Agency. A new accountability commission would consider new options and the state’s entire accountability system would expire on August 31, 2026.
The Governor is expected to call a fourth special session as soon as Wednesday. There are significant differences between Rep. Buckley’s proposal and the education bills the Senate has already passed — those will be subject to considerable negotiations.
Nearly every Democrat has said they will not support educations savings accounts no matter what compromise is proposed. Two dozen Republicans have also so-far not supported the idea.
If the Governor calls another special session, lawmakers will have a maximum of thirty more days to pass legislation. If they do not pass a plan for education savings accounts that the Gov. Abbott is willing to sign, he has already promised to support candidates to run against Republican opponents in the March primaries.