88th LegislatureEducationState SenateTexas Senate School Choice Plan Grants $8,000 Student ESAs, $10,000 Reimbursement for Rural Districts

On the last day to submit bills, the Texas Senate has submitted its plan for educational savings accounts and teacher pay raises.
March 10, 2023
The Texas Senate’s much-anticipated blueprint for school choice reform was filed Friday. It allots $8,000 for students moving from public schools to private schools and includes a “hold harmless” provision for rural school districts concerned about the program’s financial impact.

State Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) introduced two bills on the bill filing deadline dealing with education, the first of which has been the subject of much debate in the Texas Legislature.

Senate Bill (SB) 8 is a dual “parental bill of rights” and a conduit for school choice by way of education savings accounts (ESA), the endorsed method by Gov. Greg Abbott.

This proposal grants $8,000 for each student per year, to be distributed quarterly.

Students will be eligible for the program if they are currently enrolled in a public school, attended a public school for 90 percent of the previous year, or are entering Pre-K. Private and homeschool students will not be eligible.

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ESAs will be supervised by the state comptroller in tandem with “educational assistance organizations.” 

“Educating the next generation of Texans is the most fundamental responsibility we have, and I authored Senate Bill 8 to place parents, not government, squarely in the center of the decisions for their children,” Creighton said in a statement. “Giving parents the power to determine the best school for their child will encourage competition and innovation, ensuring that each Texas student has the opportunity to succeed.”

At The Texan’s 88th Session Kickoff event, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was strident in his support of school choice and clarified previous statements on “bracketing out” rural school districts, saying, “We do not want to bracket out the parents … we want all parents in rural Texas to have school choice available to them.”

“If you don’t have a chance at a quality education, you don’t have a chance at the American dream,” said Patrick.

Now, that “bracket” strategy is clear. Rural school districts with fewer than 20,000 students will receive “hold harmless” payments of $10,000 in state funding for each student who decides to leave the district.  

During Gov. Greg Abbott’s 2023 State of the State address, he discussed many of the emergency items that the Texas Legislature will be debating and at the top of that list was school choice.

“This session, we will ensure Texas remains the leader of this nation as an unflinching force in this world. Together, we will build a Texas for the next generation — the Texas of tomorrow,” said Abbott.

Education vouchers and school choice style programs are popular among Texans.  Among respondents to a University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs poll, 61 percent of Texans supported education vouchers for low-income families and 53 percent supported vouchers for all families regardless of income.

Despite its broad support both publicly and in the Legislature, there are still opponents to school choice. State Rep. Glenn Rogers (R-Graford) has been one of most prominent voices against school choice, calling it “a trojan horse attempt to privatize Texas’ education system, and drain our already underfunded public education of necessary resources for millions of children.”

Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville) is one of several to already file school choice-related bills.  Middleton filed Senate Bill (SB) 176 to create “parental empowerment accounts” with both public and private funding for parents to use on approved educational expenses.

Corey DeAngelis, senior fellow at the school choice advocate American Federation for Children, is one of the most vocal supporters of the issue.  He said to The Texan that “a school choice revolution has ignited.”

“It’s time to let these families free. It’s time for Texas to empower all families to choose the education providers that best meet their needs. It’s time for Texas to fund students, not systems,” DeAngelis said.

The “parental bill of rights” portion would leave the moral and religious upbringing of children up to their parents, and also allow parents to transfer their children between school districts if seats are available — prohibiting the charging of tuition by the new district.

School districts would not be able to withhold information regarding students from their parents, who will have the opportunity to review instruction materials if 25 percent of the parents sign a petition for access. 

Individual parents will have the opportunity to field local grievances with a proposed procedure. Written requests will go from parents to principals, then to the superintendent, and up to the school board; if not resolved, requests must be acknowledged with a written response.

If a grievance is filed in regards to critical race theory or sexual instruction, then TEA will conduct an internal hearing. 

The bill also prohibits the State Board of Education from adopting any sexual orientation or identity curriculum in its curriculum. 

Creighton also filed SB 9 to secure teacher pay raises and allow teachers to terminate their contracts without losing their certifications.

The bill includes supplements for teachers in districts with less than 20,000 students as well as mentorship and residency programs. Teachers will be able to receive funding for bilingual teaching certifications and will receive tuition-free Pre-K for their own children.

There is also a provision to give teachers the discretion to remove students from the classroom for disruptive behavior. Teachers must submit a written report to the principal and provide written consent to bring the student back after the removal.


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Cameron Abrams

Cameron Abrams is a reporter for The Texan. After graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Tabor College and a Master’s Degree from University of the Pacific, Cameron is finishing his doctoral studies where his research focuses on the postmodern philosophical influences in education. In his free time, you will find him listening to a podcast while training for an endurance running event.