Texas Gov. Abbott reaches deal with House Speaker on school choice plan

Days after reports that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s school choice bill would not pass the state House, the governor announced a deal with the Texas House Speaker that includes universal savings…

Days after reports that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s school choice bill would not pass the state House, the governor announced a deal with the Texas House Speaker that includes universal savings accounts. 

“Working with [Republican] Speaker Phelan and his House leadership team, the Speaker and I reached an agreement on school choice for Texas families, and I am expanding the agenda for Special Session #3,” said Abbott on X, formerly known as Twitter, about the deal.

Abbott called this third special session specifically to address school choice legislation, which did not get passed during the regular session earlier this year.

The proposed package would include universal savings accounts for K-12 students, with $10,400 available in Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), the phasing out of the Texas STAAR testing program, teacher pay raises and enhanced school safety programs, said the governor.  

“I thank @LtGovTX Dan Patrick and Speaker @DadePhelan for productive discussions that led to this expanded agenda,” said Abbott.  

But in order for the package to become law, Abbott has two tasks. 

The first is to reconcile a previously passed version of this bill in the Senate with this proposal,  and the second is to get enough GOP votes in the House for passage.  

“This is the next step in the legislative process to deliver school choice to Texas parents and students who deserve the freedom to choose the education that best fits their learning needs,” Abbott said in a statement. “I look forward to working with both chambers of the Texas Legislature on getting this legislation to my desk to sign into law.” 

The bill will replace House Bill 1, which was proposed by Texas House Education Committee chairman, Rep. Brad Buckley, R-Killeen, a bill which The Lion previously reported could not be considered under the rules of the special session called by the governor.   

At a parent empowerment rally at the Texas Capitol on Oct. 16, Abbott encouraged parents to only support Republicans in primaries who support his school choice agenda.  

“[Voters] expect the House member they will be voting for in the primary to support school choice,” Abbott told rally attendees, according to local KXAN News Austin.  

The governor promised that the STAAR system will be replaced by a better assessment tool, along with billions in more funding for public education in Texas.  

“We will also provide billions more in public education funding to boost Texas’ top-notch public school system, including teacher pay raises, while staying within the constitutional spending limit. This bill will codify recommendations made by the Teacher Vacancy Task Force, the Commission on Virtual Education, and the Commission on Special Education Funding. Importantly, the STAAR Test will be phased out to be replaced with an improved assessment system,” said Abbott, according to local KWTX News 10.  

Combining additional public education funding, along with hefty teacher pay increases in support of school choice programs, has been a winning formula in places like Arkansas and Florida.  

As was previously the case in Arkansas and Florida, GOP lawmakers who represent rural districts in Texas have been reluctant to support school choice, which teachers’ unions argue would hurt public education. 

Public school teachers usually make up a large portion of the voting base in any rural House district.  

The pay raises may help pave the way for general acceptance of the program in Texas by rural public school teachers, however, and the GOP lawmakers who represent them.