AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — As the Texas Legislature continues looking for a path forward on education savings accounts, elected officials from the Panhandle region said the legislation is not likely to be passed this special session.
Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) pushed for his main legislative priority again this week, which would subsidize private schools with public dollars.
“School choice, the things I’m hearing from the House, we’re probably still a long ways from complying with what the governor is requesting in a special session,” State Sen. Kevin Sparks (R-District 31) said on Thursday.
“From a practical standpoint, you know, it appears that no school choice bill is going to pass in this special session,” said State Rep. John Smithee (R-District 86). “It doesn’t appear the House is even going to consider a bill, which I think is unfortunate whether you’re for or against…”
Sparks said the school choice debate started before the regular session.
“It’s just kind of disappointing that we haven’t been able to come together along with, you know, the public school indicies, and come up with a viable plan moving forward that’s going to give parents more options on how they educate their children,” Sparks added.
Both Sparks and Smithee represent school districts in rural areas.
“As I visit with folks in smaller communities, they’re not, for the most part, are not unhappy with the education in those communities. I don’t see them being highly at risk,” Sparks continued. “I know, there are a lot of school associations that are, you know, screaming that the sky is gonna fall, if any type of school choice program gets put into place. That’s not what we’ve seen in other states that have implemented school choice.”
Smithee said he wants to listen to both sides, keep an open mind, and ultimately do what is best for school kids.
“If we can protect our rural schools, then I’ve always said, you know, I’m open to considering, you know, education savings accounts because in certain instances, that may be a good solution for some from some of our students,” Smithee said, noting it is a complex issue. “You’ve got issues of accountability. How do you test all these students? You’ve got transparency issues of how transparent the funding process needs to be.”
Smithee said as of Thursday, the House did not have the votes to pass a school choice bill. He said it is about 10 to 12 votes short.
“You know, how you get from where we are to where they need to be in terms of numbers? I don’t know. But the governor has indicated he’ll he will continue calling special sessions until the legislature passes something,” Smithee continued.
Smithee also said one of his priorities is making sure rural school districts have enough money to recruit, retain, and pay teachers. He said he is also in favor of increasing teacher pay.