Without a major push from Gov. Greg Abbott, school-choice legislation appears headed for death in Texas — again.
Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty, R–Kingwood, declared school choice “dead” in the Texas House this year.
Huberty’s prognosis – accurate or premature – sets up a replay of 2015, when a Senate-passed school choice bill failed to get a hearing in the House.
House Speaker Joe Straus, with financial backing from H-E-B grocery magnate Charles Butt, has proven to be an immovable barrier to any legislation opening private-school options for Texans.
A key Straus lieutenant, Huberty appeared to be following orders when he told the Texas Tribune that any school choice bill is doomed in his committee.
“Your responsibility as a chairman is to protect your members from tough votes,” explained Huberty.
Huberty said his focus is on reforming public-school finance, not passing private-school choice.
Members of the pro-school choice group Texans for Education Opportunity scheduled a precinct block-walk in his district in an effort to appeal over Huberty’s head to his constituents.
Senate Bill 3, with strong backing from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, is widely expected to clear the Senate. Enacting the school choice bill would add Texas to the 29 states that offer private-school choice in the form of scholarships or vouchers.
Abbott talked up school choice earlier this year, calling it a “civil-rights issue” during an enthusiastic rally at the Capitol in January.
In his State of the State address, Abbott made the case for choice, but might have been prophetic when he observed, “What’s good for Dan [Patrick] may not be good for Joe [Straus].”
And the governor stopped short of listing SB 3 as an “emergency measure.”
Randan Steinhauser, Texas adviser to EdChoice, blasted Huberty on Tuesday.
“He’s indicated that he will put his political ambitions ahead of the school children in Texas,” she told Watchdog.org
“By giving in to the superintendents and teachers’ unions in Texas and refusing to hold a vote on school choice, Rep. Huberty has insulted the thousands of families in Texas that would benefit from having another education option,” she said.
Peggy Venable, a conservative leader and school choice advocate, said the fight to instill competition in K-12 education will continue, noting that school choice remains in the Republican Party platform and is supported by U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.
Matt Prewett, president of the grassroots Texas Parents Union, called the House’s resistance “sad.” “School choice makes a lot of sense in certain scenarios,” he said.
But Prewett, noting Huberty’s focus on public-school funding, added, “Texas does need to fix school finance and provide more funding at the state level in order to fund school choice. So fixing school finance could be a win-win.”
Matthew Ladner, senior research fellow with the Charles Koch Institute, wasn’t so sanguine.
“Texas has severe overcrowding problems in its schools, and the state is adding 90,000 students per year,” he said.
Pointing to thousands of available classroom seats in private schools around the Lone Star State, Ladner said, “The public school system needs all the help it can get.”
Kenric Ward reports for Texas Watchdog. Contact him at [email protected] and @Kenricward.