Texas House Thwarts Voucher Bill

Published July 1, 2005

A proposal to create a statewide school voucher program was shelved in the Texas House of Representatives May 23 after five hours of heated debate, effectively ending any chance of giving Lone Star State students full school choice until the next legislative session convenes in 2007.

“It is a sad day in Texas when legislators vote against an educational option that would save our most vulnerable children in our inner cities,” said Peggy Venable, director of the Texas chapter of Americans for Prosperity. “These legislators have turned their backs on the kids trapped in low-performing schools, the students who are victims of violence, and others who would have benefitted.”

The bill went through a series of last-minute changes and votes, with one amendment being tabled on a 72-71 vote and another losing 72-72, according to the May 24 issue of the Houston Chronicle. The bill was then amended to give students vouchers only to attend the public school of their choice, defeating its central purpose. House Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland) used a parliamentary procedure to close debate on the bill for the session.

“I woke up this morning thinking this may be the day we made history in Texas,” sponsor State Rep. Kent Grusendorf (R-Arlington) told the Chronicle. “I’m disappointed.”

System Failing, Critics Say

The main voucher amendment–attached to a Senate bill reauthorizing the Texas Education Agency–would have empowered parents to take control of their children’s education by giving 30,000 students in seven high-poverty urban districts vouchers to use at the schools of their choice. The Legislative Budget Board, a permanent joint committee of the legislature, estimated this spring the measure would siphon $69 million away from the seven school districts over two years.

Grusendorf said something has to be done to help those students. “We have many great public schools in Texas, but we can’t ignore the fact that some campuses just don’t make the grade,” he said.

A May 18 Austin American-Statesman article provided evidence for Grusendorf’s claim, noting 50 percent of Texas’ college freshmen require remedial math, reading, or writing courses. “Students are entering universities unprepared for its rigors,” the reporter wrote. “This is well known among education officials and the Legislature but there is not enough action to alter a picture that is growing increasingly dim. Texas has a problem that is threatening to get much worse.”

Lack of Confidence

Rep. Carter Casteel (R-New Braunfels) passionately opposed the voucher plan, saying it would harm public schools and noting the charter school alternative Texas is trying isn’t working. However, Casteel failed to acknowledge that charters serve many students who have dropped out of failing public schools–students who cannot be brought back up to grade-level expectations quickly, Venable said.

The bottom line, Venable said, is that “parents, not government, should decide what’s best for their children. If all public schools are so good, then why would anyone fear that there would be a mass exodus from our public schools if parents were given that option?

“It is clear there is a tremendous lack of confidence in the public school system when legislators refuse to provide options to those students who are most in need of help,” Venable said.

Connie Sadowski ([email protected]) is director of the Austin CEO Foundation, a 12-year-old organization of businessmen and community leaders that aims to give parents power over their children’s education.