Gov. Greg Abbott called the Texas Legislature into a fourth special session on Tuesday with the aim of expanding K-12 options for families. Over the past few years, lawmakers from across the country have empowered families to find the best school for their children. Abbott, a Republican, seems resolved to create similar opportunities for Texas students.
Republican Texas House Education Committee Chairman Brad Buckley has drafted an omnibus education bill that includes the creation of an education savings account program. This draft proposal would:
- Provide education savings accounts with $10,500 annually for participating students who are not homeschooling and $1,000 for homeschooling students.
- Prioritize low- and middle-income students with disabilities, low-income students generally, middle-income students generally, and finally, all other students, in that order.
- Allow students to use the funds in their accounts to pay for tuition at accredited private schools and higher education institutions, textbooks and fees, testing, tutoring, and other education expenses.
- Require participating students to take an exam from a menu of assessments.
- Remove eligibility for those students who fail to perform satisfactorily on their exams two years in a row.
- Provide that unused account funds in any year revert to the state and the remaining funds of students leaving the program before graduation also revert to the state.
- Develop an annual report on the efficacy of the program.
- Subject the program to sunset review in 2029.
Texas lags nationally in providing its citizens with education choice. On The Heritage Foundation’s 2023 Education Freedom Report Card, Texas ranks 30th for education choice and eighth for education freedom overall. If Texas lawmakers had enacted the current version of the education savings account program in House Bill 1, the state would have risen in the rankings to 13th for education choice and fourth for education freedom overall. (The Daily Signal is the news and commentary outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
Texas could rank even higher if lawmakers make three improvements to the bill. First, lawmakers should allow families to save unused funds from year to year—making it a true education savings account rather than just a multiuse voucher program.
Second, the ESA program should be formula-funded rather than funded via an appropriation by a vote of the Legislature. That would guarantee a steady source of funding for the ESAs and allow more families to participate.
Finally, lawmakers should remove the provision that would kick students out of the program based on their performance on a standardized test. Imagine a district school student who was several years behind her peers academically. After receiving an ESA, she makes significant progress but still fails to pass the test. As written, the legislation would take her ESA away, and she would probably end up back in the same system that had failed her for so long.
If the Legislature passed a bill with these improvements, then Texas would rank fourth in the nation for education choice and third for education freedom overall, providing a truly superior educational experience and the opportunity for a brighter future for every Texas student.
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