Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who controls the state Senate, set out a troubling agenda for the Texas legislature this year, including a statewide private school voucher program. As the legislature winds down, pushing harmful legislation all the way until the end, there’s one spot of good news. We are glad to report, that because of the advocacy of people like AU members and supporters, Patrick won’t be able to achieve that particular goal. 

In sum, the Texas House of Representatives voted twice to block the Senate’s voucher proposals. Earlier this year, after the Senate passed a voucher program, the House not only refused to take up the measure, but also inserted a provision in its budget bill that would block public funds from being used for private education.  For several months, it seemed like Patrick’s voucher program was dead.

Lawmakers in Texas have twice turned back Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's voucher scheme.

But in a strange turn, just before the end of legislative session, a Senate committee added a voucher program for students with disabilities to a popular school finance measure. Then the Senate passed the amended bill. It was an aggressive effort to make the House choose: either take the voucher plan or kill the school financing bill. With that amendment, the bill went from popular to toxic.

But because public funds should be used to help public schools, where 90 percent of kids go, the House made the right call. Earlier this week, the House refused to agree to the Senate’s voucher amendment. When it came time to meet with the Senate to work out the differences between their bills, the House said it would only agree to a bill that “Prohibit[s] the use of money to support private school education.”

We have a responsibility to provide great public schools and teachers to every kid in America, and the Texas legislature had a chance to do just that. But instead, the Senate refused to meet with the House to uphold its responsibility and Patrick proclaimed the bill dead. This is a sad – and ideologically driven – ending for a bill whose initial promise was to infuse $1.5 billion more into the Texas public school system, modernize the funding formulas and take pressure off local property taxes to support schools. Taxpayers can’t afford to fund two different education systems – one public and one religious. But Patrick insists if the state won’t fund both, then Texas should fund neither.

The Texas legislature, thankfully, is not scheduled to meet again until 2019.