Voucher Saga 2021
This has been a hard session, but we are holding the line on private school vouchers. This happened two times during the 87th session. It started with stripping one of the first bills heard in committee, HB3, of a private school voucher. And it wrapped up with a steady week of advocacy to strip SB 1716 of its special education voucher.
I'll take you through the motions of what happened last week with SB 1716, with excerpts from our email communication.
On Monday, May 17, we sent out this notice:
The latest unfortunate tactic comes from our House Public Education Committee. They are meeting this afternoon to discuss and possibly vote on Senate Bill 1716, a special education voucher bill, without holding a public hearing. They do not have a House companion bill to 1716, which means they have not held any debate or discussion on this policy idea this session. The committee chairman determined unilaterally that there would be no public testimony on SB 1716. So they simply are not doing their due diligence. We cannot let this slide without letting the members of this committee know that we see what they are doing and we do not approve. Please call the members of the committee, especially if you live in any of their districts. We know it will take a few minutes to do this, but it will help! Rep Harold V. Dutton Jr. - Houston - (512) 463-0510 Rep. J.M. Lozano - outside Corpus Christi - (512) 463-0463 Rep Alma Allen - Houston - (512) 463-0744 Rep. Steve Allison - San Antonio - (512) 463-0686 Rep. Keith Bell - Forney - (512) 463-0458 Rep. Diego Bernal - San Antonio - (512) 463-0532 Rep. Brad Buckley - Lampasas - (512) 463-0684 Rep. Mary E. González - El Paso - (512) 463-0613 Rep. Dan Huberty - Kingwood/Humble - (512) 463-0520 Rep. Ken King - Panhandle - (512) 463-0736 Rep. Thresa "Terry" Meza - Irving - (512) 463-0641 Rep. James Talarico - Round Rock - (512) 463-0670 Rep. Gary VanDeaver - Paris/Texarkana - (512) 463-0692 Of course, the supporters of SB 1716 do not see it as a voucher, so it may be that some members are more likely to support it. But the Coalition for Public Schools, of which PTC is a member organization and our co-director, Dr. Charles Luke, is coordinator, is vehement in their opposition to this measure as a voucher. Texas has traditionally held the line on vouchers, but the voucher supporters are following the playbook other states have used, even down to closed-door committee meetings like today’s. Special education vouchers are often called the “gateway voucher.” Voucher supporters pull on the heart-strings of our legislators who are sympathetic to special needs students. What we need to communicate is that we love those students too. We want the very best programs, funding, teaching, research, support and care to go to our special needs students. And all of that is found in our public schools which receive both state and federal funding and oversight. Siphoning funds away from the public schools and diluting those resources into vouchers that do not even cover the cost of education is not the way to support our special education students. PTC is always against private school vouchers. It is not because we don’t think parents should have choices or resources, but because we believe public funds should not be used to support private institutions, especially religious institutions. We believe in God's Common Good that is ministered all day, every day through our neighborhood and community public schools.
We flooded those committee members' offices with phone calls, and the pressure forced a public hearing. Dr. Charles Luke, our co-director, testified. He had planned to testify against the bill, but fortunately, Rep. Gary Vandeaver proposed an amendment that essentially stripped the voucher out of the bill, and Dr. Luke changed his testimony accordingly.
Here is the communication we sent on Wednesday, May 19, about the result after the committee hearing:
This week is evidence of what happens when you rally your voices in support of our children. If you remember, we started off the week letting you know that SB 1716 was coming before the House Public Education Committee without a public hearing. The bill was a special education voucher program that had no companion in the House, meaning the Public Education Committee had not heard testimony on this subject this session.
You raised your voice against the committee's plans not to follow due process, and they heard you. They changed their plans and held a public hearing on Tuesday.
Representative Gary Vandeaver proposed an amendment to the bill that changes the dispersement of special education funding. Under his amendment, the money is channeled through the publicly overseen regional Education Service Centers—not given in direct payments to families with no accountability. Thus, the voucher was stripped from the bill. In addition, the decision on where and how to spend the money will be made in conjunction with the child's Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARD) committee. This amendment was amenable to Pastors for Texas Children, because it gives local control and oversight to the use of these public funds. We changed our testimony to be in support of the bill with the amendment. The committee then passed the bill.
We heard from several offices that they had received many calls on behalf of Pastors for Texas Children. Thank you for your phone calls, emails and to those of you who submitted electronically written testimony against SB 1716. It protected our most vulnerable children from losing precious resources.
This is continually what we see, when the faith community comes together to protect and defend our children from losing public funds for private ends. Advocacy works. Everyone says this is the hardest session in recent memory. It started behind closed doors, since due to COVID restrictions, the public wasn't allowed in. Even when restriction loosened, there was a definite sense that legislators were pushing radical bills through, knowing that there would be reduced public participation. Or perhaps it is because of upcoming redistricting. Whatever the reason, it was a tough session. But even though it gets harder to accomplish from one session to the next, Pastors for Texas Children continually holds the line against private school vouchers in any form. And that's because of the united front of our diverse group of faith leaders who step up to advocate. Thank you all.