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Public school advocates demand end to voucher pursuits on Legislature’s last day

 woman in blue suit at lectern talking into a microphone, left hand outstretchd
Texas Legislature
Nancy Humphrey, president of the Plano ISD school board, speaks out against school voucher programs — or “education savings accounts” — at a press conference in Austin, Monday, May 29, 2023.

On the final day of the 88th Texas Legislature, public school advocates urged Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Senate to end their pursuit of school vouchers — or “education savings accounts.”

ESAs, which would let parents spend up to $8,000 in public funds to help pay for their child's private school tuition, had been a priority for the governor and lieutenant governor this session. However, legislation to create the program was rejected in the House, making it likely to come up again if the governor calls a special session.

Had ESAs been approved, they would have — for the first time in modern Texas history — sent public funding to private schools.

In a Monday morning press conference from Austin, Texas School Coalition Executive Director Christy Rome urged lawmakers to reject the plan again if it returns in the coming weeks.

"Texans do not support putting public funds into private and home schools that are lacking in accountability," Rome said.

The voucher legislation proposed and pushed this session would not have made private schools change their rules, which currently allow them to deny students for any number of reasons, academic, financial, or otherwise.

A March 2023 poll from the University of Texas, Austin found 46% of Texans supported legislation letting public dollars help parents pay for private school. Forty-one percent opposed the idea, according to the Texas Tribune.

Kevin Brown, who leads the Texas Association of School Administrators, said the state now has a record amount of funds legislators chose not to allocate towards public education. That's because a bill that would have raised teacher pay and increased dollars for public schools was tied to ESAs, and ultimately failed.

"The Senate's inclusion of vouchers was a poison pill and they knew it," Brown said.

"It's time for political games to stop. To give teacher pay raises, to adjust for inflation and not to hold those funds hostage," added Brown.

Plano ISD's school board president Nancy Humphrey said Texas public schools aren't adequately funded now — despite that being a constitutional requirement — even with the state's historic 2023 budget surplus.

"Texans do not want to give away billions of dollars to private schools with no system of accountability," Humphrey said.