Gov. Abbott to call special sessions if legislature doesn’t pass school choice bill

(The Center Square) – With less two weeks left in the regular legislative session and ahead of a scheduled House committee vote on a watered down school choice bill, Gov. Greg Abbott warned the…

(The Center Square) – With less two weeks left in the regular legislative session and ahead of a scheduled House committee vote on a watered down school choice bill, Gov. Greg Abbott warned the Republican-led legislature that he would veto any school choice related bill if it doesn’t come close to SB 8, a parental rights and school choice bill, and special sessions would be called until the legislature passes it.

On Sunday night ahead of a scheduled vote by the House Public Education Committee on a watered down version of SB 8, Abbott said, “This latest version does little to provide meaningful school choice, and legislators deserve to know that it would be vetoed if it reached my desk.

“Instead, the original House version of the Senate bill provides a more meaningful starting point to begin House-Senate negotiations.”

Special sessions will be necessary, Abbot said, if a meaningful school choice measure is not sent to his desk.

“Empowering parents to choose the best educational path for their child remains an essential priority this session,” he added. “A majority of Texans from across the state and from all backgrounds support expanding school choice.”

The regular legislative session ends May 29. Only the governor can call a special legislative session for 30 days, to be extended by another 30 days. The governor also determines the legislative agenda to be considered during the special sessions.

Abbott indicated that because of the Republican-led House’s inability to pass meaningful parental rights or school choice bills, the legislature was heading to more than one special session. In 2021, he called three special legislative sessions after House Democrats absconded to Washington, D.C., and after the legislature failed to pass key priority bills.

SB 8, filed by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, creates a parent’s bill of rights, a teacher bill of rights, and new school choice options.

The Senate passed the bill April 6. On the same day, the House passed an amendment as part of its budget deliberations attempting to block state money from funding school choice programs like Education Savings Accounts. Twenty-four Republicans joined Democrats opposing school choice funding.

Another 10 were present but abstained from voting, including the chair of the House Public Education Committee, Rep. Brad Buckley, R-Salado. Buckley, a former school board member with the Killeen Independent School District, is married to the assistant superintendent for secondary schools in the same district.

The Republican-led House’s watered down bill only allows a version of ESAs for special education students and those attending F-rated schools, students who already have some school choice options. The Senate plan creates Education Savings Accounts for 62,500 students as a starting point.

Abbott made parental rights and school choice an emergency legislative item, which includes increasing the number of special needs students who can apply for the ESA program, “expanding school choice options through ESAs to all Texas students,” and amending the Texas Constitution to “bolster a parent’s right as the primary decision maker in all matters involving their child.” His plan also would require schools to better inform parents of their rights, expand parental access to curriculum and books, reform the grievance process, and strengthen health consent requirements, all measures incorporated in SB 8.

“The Senate’s version of school choice makes about 5.5 million students eligible, while the House’s version of that bill proposed last week would make about 4 million students eligible,” Abbott said Sunday night. “The latest House version of school choice, which came out this weekend, only applies to about 800,000 students. It also provides less funding for special education students than the original House version of the Senate bill and denies school choice to low-income families that may desperately need expanded education options for their children.”

The governor said that as the regular session progressed, “the number of House members supporting school choice has continued to grow. The realization that the STAAR test will be eliminated if school choice is enacted is attracting even more legislators. No doubt other modifications can be made to the original House version of the Senate bill to attract even more legislators, as well as to bridge the divide with the Senate. Parents and their children deserve the time and effort this will take.”