Pressure mounts on school choice decision as end of legislative session nears

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Posted at 8:32 PM, May 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-16 21:32:37-04

AUSTIN, Texas — Pressure from both sides is mounting on lawmakers as the deadline for a decision on school choice vouchers approaches at the end of the month.

Senate Bill 8, which made its way to the house over a month ago, provides up to $8,000 for some students to opt out of their assigned public school.

Temple ISD superintendent Bobby Ott spoke at a Texas House public education committee hearing on Monday, challenging the bill as detrimental to public education.

"We need to be thinking about children. That's really what we need to be thinking about," Ott told 25 News on Tuesday.

Ott condemned pressure from Governor Greg Abbott to push lawmakers to push a full school choice bill or face a special session in the coming months.

The bill has found support from many private school educators, who view it as an opportunity for more students to access private education or to leave failing schools.

"A lot of private schools, honestly, they cost money — and a lot of families can't afford that, but it doesn't mean they wouldn't be a wonderful fit for your school," said Benjamin Andrassy, head of Eagle Christian Academy in Waco.

"A lot of private schools in Waco offer scholarships, but not to the extent of school choice offering $8,000."

Andrassy explained that the vouchers would create more diversity in private school programs and improve access for students in need of an alternative for public school.

Ott argues that school choice programs would serve as a "parachute" for a select few students who are able to be accepted into private institutions.

In its current form, S.B. 8 would only apply to fewer than a million Texas students. In its original form, the bill would apply to 5.5 million students.

Governor Abbott pledged to veto the narrower bill, calling for the house to pass an expanded version.

The bill is currently awaiting a vote by the public education committee in the house before moving to the floor.

The 88th legislative ends on May 29.