Tax-credit scholarship programs enable businesses or individuals to donate to nonprofit organizations that administer private school scholarships, in exchange for full or partial tax credit. Texas currently offers no education choice programs.
Senate Bill 2, approved by the Senate in July, would have granted approximately 6,000 disabled students a maximum of $10,000 in scholarship money per student per year. “An additional 26,000 would receive $500 to stay in public schools and pay for supplemental services or transportation,” The Texas Tribune reported in July. “Funds would come through donations from insurance companies that would receive premium tax credits in return—capped at $75 million.”
The Texas House Public Education Committee revised the bill in August to remove the scholarship proposal and replace it with a measure to create $30 million of grants to supplement private services for disabled students over the next two years.
Public School Problems
State Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) requested parents with special needs kids send him their stories. Simmons says every one of the hundreds of stories he received was unique, but they all had a common thread.
“They all said they would love for their child to be educated in the local public school; however, when they tried to work with that local school—and it could have been one in Houston or it could have been one in Hidalgo—they did not understand the needs of their child,” Simmons said.
“They intimidated the parent in their review meeting, and they did not follow what was in the Individual Education Plan [a learning plan designed specifically for special needs children], which caused their child to slip further and further behind, and their behavior got worse until they were finally forced to do something on their own, whether it was private school or home school or some combination,” Simmons said.
‘We Don’t Have Time’
Simmons says special needs students are losing ground while lawmakers fail to act.
“It is a difficult task we are asking them to do, and that’s why we need to give these parents some choice, rather than what their ZIP code is, because these children don’t have the opportunity to wait for the problem to be fixed over the next several years,” Simmons said. “Every day a special needs child is not advancing in their education and learning, they are falling further and further behind the neuro-typical child. So, we don’t have time for these families to wait. Instead, we ought to fix the schools, but in the meantime, we still have to provide, under law, the appropriate education for these children.”
‘Completely Beholden’ to Unions
Randan Steinhauser, Texas advisor for EdChoice and founder of the Texas School Choice Coalition, says the Lone Star State is unique in constantly promoting freedom and liberty as state principles, but when it comes to education choice, it’s sadly lagging behind the rest of the nation.
“Year after year, we are told lawmakers will finally prioritize parents over bureaucrats, but this never happens,” Steinhauser said. “We have a cohort of House members who are completely beholden to the teachers unions and will stop at nothing to prevent parents from having access to a school choice program.”
Steinhauser says parents are paying increasing attention to what their elected officials are doing.
“As we look beyond the special session, one thing is clear: School choice is a line in the sand for many members of the Texas legislature,” Steinhauser said. “And folks back in their districts were paying attention, and we’re going to be sure that they are held accountable to parents, not superintendents or union leaders, but parents, to ensure that they have to answer some very tough questions.”
Sees ‘Very Bright’ Future
Steinhauser says she’s optimistic Texas will have school choice at some point.
“The future for education reform in Texas is very bright,” Steinhauser said. “While we may not have seen a legislative accomplishment this session, our coalition is stronger than ever, parents are more engaged than before, and I believe we will see a choice program in the Lone Star State. We have a lot of work to do, but this is a cause worth fighting for, and I can guarantee you, we will not give up the fight.”
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.
Texas state Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton): http://www.house.state.tx.us/members/member-page/?district=65