Private school choice bill likely to get makeover on Senate floor

By Aliyya Swaby

Senators are expected to discuss a bill for private school tuition subsidies as soon as Wednesday that looks much different than when it passed out of committee last week.

According to staffers familiar with the issue, Senate Education Committee staff briefed legislative staff Tuesday on a one-page report detailing changes to Senate Bill 3, which would create two public programs subsidizing private school tuition and homeschooling expenses. The changes seem aimed at excluding rural counties from participating and limiting the overall number of students who would be able to take advantage of the programs, in the face of criticism from opponents that they would suck money from the public education system.

The first program SB 3 would create is an education savings account program, which would give parents access to online accounts of public money to pay for private school tuition and other expenses. The second would be a tax credit scholarship program, letting businesses credit their insurance premium taxes in exchange for donations to approved scholarship organizations.

Senate Education Committee staff did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A representative for Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, the Education Committee chairman, declined to comment on the floor substitute.

Rural legislators have been expected to show the most resistance to the school choice bill, since their constituents do not have access to many private schools. They have argued the bill would decrease the money available to public schools.

The one-page document says the floor substitute would limit eligibility for both programs to counties with over 50,000 in population, excluding rural Texas districts. Individual school boards excluded in this provision would be able to allow parents to opt into the school choice programs.

It would limit overall participation in the education savings account program, which Taylor previously described as "universal." In the previous versions of the bill, a family of any income could participate in the education savings account program. The one-page document says the floor substitute would cap the program. A family of three making more than about $75,000 could not participate.

The floor substitute would also reduce the cost of the tax credit scholarship program from $100 million to $25 million in the next fiscal year. And it would require that 75 percent of funding for each program be dedicated to paying for tuition and the other 25 percent for education expenses, such as tutoring and special education services. The previous version did not specifically delineate those percentages.

This article orginally appeared at The Texas Tribune.

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