A Texas House committee on Friday proposed a path forward to reach a compromise on school vouchers, one of the most polarizing issues the Texas Legislature debated this year. The 15-member committee, composed of Republican and Democratic lawmakers, released a report that also made a number of recommendations on school finance, the teacher workforce and student outcomes. The committee didn’t endorse outright the Legislature passing a school voucher program, which would let parents use taxpayer money to send their kids to private schools. But if lawmakers were to approve such a program, the report said, it should be smaller in scale than the one proposed during this year’s regular legislative session and prioritize high-need students. The committee also recommended that any voucher program approved by the Legislature should use money that is separate from the public education budget and be held accountable to taxpayers.
The committee also recommended that lawmakers look into expanding educational choices that already exist within the state’s public education system, such as STEM academies, career and technical education and early-college high schools.
The committee vice chair wrote that a school voucher program should include a sunset date to allow the Legislature to review its performance and decide whether it’s worth continuing. “Without accountability the Legislature is left without informational tools to monitor student progress,” Gervin-Hawkins wrote. Rep. Hinojsa, D-Austin, was the only committee member who didn’t add her signature to the report, writing that some of its recommendations would hurt public schools and instead included her own suggestions for giving public schools more funding for teacher pay and special education programs. Rep. Dutton, D-Houston, signed the report but wrote that he did not agree with creating any kind of voucher program. Rep. Van Deaver, R-New Boston, wrote that the public education system already offers a plethora of choices for parents and students, and worried that school vouchers would open the door for public dollars to go to private institutions without any plans to ensure transparency or accountability.
House Speaker Phelan created the committee in June to look into “educational opportunities” for Texas’ schoolchildren ahead of an expected special session to revisit the discussion on vouchers.
The committee report recommended that the Legislature raise the basic allotment, which is the base amount of money that school districts receive per student. Raising the allotment was a priority for cash-strapped schools going into the regular session. The committee said raising the basic allotment will contribute to student achievement and let schools give raises to teachers, who were the only state employees not to receive a raise during the regular session. The committee also recommended expanding the Teacher Incentive Allotment, a program that promises to pay teachers up to six-figure salaries if they meet certain performance requirements. It also recommends free pre-K for teachers’ children. In addition, it included recommendations to fund and establish Teacher Residency Programs, in which aspiring teachers are paired up with a teacher for a school year.
Some school districts are already seeing success with such programs, although they’ve had to get creative on how to fund them without new funding from the state. The report highlighted that about 1 in 3 teachers taught last year with no certification. To make the profession more accessible, the report recommended waiving certification costs for those wanting to be bilingual and special education teachers, and waiving certification costs for first-time teacher applicants.