AUSTIN - Less than a week after thousands rallied at the State Capitol for "School Choice", a state senator from Pearland, Texas filed Senate Bill 3 Monday to create an education savings account program, tax credit scholarship and educational expense assistance program.
Both Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have voiced their support of a bill creating education savings accounts (ESAs). The republican leaders say Texas parents already have school choice, if they can afford to send their children to private school and argue ESAs open the door to that same opportunity to many more children.
The bill filed by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Pearland) not only establishes an education savings account program, but also a tax credit scholarship.
These are funds parents can use if they decide to take their children out of public school and put them in a charter or private school or home-school them. The money can be used for private school tuition, private tutoring, online learning or instructional materials.
The money will come out of the state's budget, which is mainly funded through sales tax. How much money a family gets to use depends on their median family income, but ranged from 60 percent to 90 percent for parents of a child with special needs. The other 40 to 10 percent will be sent to the public school district the student would have attended.
In order for a student to be eligible for an ESA, they must have attended a private school the year before or be starting kindergarten or first grade for the first time.
The tax credit scholarship program will give businesses who donate into it a tax credit of up to 50-percent of their annual insurance tax liability. The scholarships are reserved for students in foster or institutional care, have a parent who is on active duty in the military or have a household income that's not greater than 200 percent of the free or reduced priced lunch guidelines.
"This is not money leaving the system. It is money following the student," Taylor said in a news conference Monday. "Frankly, it allows a school system that's maybe losing kids to maybe look at their own program and say 'what are we doing, why are these people leaving' and up their game. And frankly, that's the point."
Educator unions and lobby groups have concerns about the bill.
"Our major concern with really any voucher program is that it is going to pull state budget, tax dollars out of an accountable system and put them into a system with no real accountability for those tax dollars," said Monty Exter, Lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators. "Whether that money is coming directly from a public school or coming from the budget generally, it is going to cost some amount of money. That money is going to come out of state dollars, those dollars are tax payer dollars and they're planning to spend tax payer dollars on a non-public, non-accountable system."
Patrick estimates 15,000 students would use the program in the first year, and added the state has already budgeted for growth of 80,000 students a year in public school. Proof, he states, that education is getting more money, not less.
GO HERE to follow the progress of SB 3 in the Texas Legislature.
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