By: Rachel Thompson
Governor Abbott called the fourth special session, which began at 5pm on November 7, 2023, immediately after the third special session. He opened with “The Texas Legislature made progress over the past month protecting Texans from forced COVID-19 vaccinations and increasing penalties for human smuggling, however, there is more work to be done. I am immediately calling lawmakers back for Special Session number four to complete their critical work to empower Texas parents to choose the best education pathway for their child while providing billions more in funding for Texas public schools and continuing to boost safety measures in schools.”
Will vouchers give parents real choice? It all depends on your financial circumstance, as well as services a student may need. According to Private School Review, established in 2003, the elementary school average tuition in Texas is $10,472 per academic year while the private high school average in Texas is $11,949 per year. Senate Bill 1 provides $1,000, if the participating child is a home-schooled student, or $8,000, if the child is attends a private school.
One of the co-authors of Senate Bill 1 is Senator Paul Bettencourt who represents the Senate District 7, which encompasses most of West Harris County. If a parent in Bettencourt’s district decides to send their child to the Kinkaid Academy, they will get an $8,000 credit toward tuition which currently ranges from $27,740 to $33,655 according to their website. So, yes, vouchers provide real choice to parents that can afford to pay at least $19,740.
The bill also states that a private school is not subject to federal and state laws regarding the provision of educational services to a child with a disability in the same manner as a public school. Therefore, students that qualify for special education services could be denied acceptance to the private schools, or grossly underserved. Of all students receiving special education services in Texas, 66 percent are identified as male. Males also make up 83 and 71 percent of autism and emotional disturbance classifications, respectively. Black students, who make up 12.6 percent of the Texas public school population, make up 20 percent of the “emotional disturbance” classifications. Will vouchers give parents real choice?
It all depends on if the private school will accept our Black male students who qualify for special education and provide the services they need. Parents, special education advocates, pastors, and school superintendents throughout the state have voiced concerns, penned letters, and testified that vouchers will undermine public education. During an October 29, 2023, interview on Inside Texas Politics with Dallas’ ABC affiliate WFAA, Republican Representative Drew Darby said: “I find it objectionable any talk of taking public dollars out of public schools and supporting private or parochial schools that don’t have the same accountability, don’t have the same test, don’t have the same transparency, and don’t have open enrollment policies.”
The issue has remained stalled throughout previous sessions largely due to the opposition of Republicans in rural parts of the state, where schools are the largest employers and the pride of their communities. Of more than 1,200 Texas school districts, 658 are classified as some version of rural. Most Democrats have vowed to oppose the legislation. Special sessions can last up to 30 days, and there is no limit to the number of special sessions that can be called.
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