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Texas Senate Passes Voucher Bill

04.20.2015 — The full Senate today gave preliminary approval to CSSB 4, the committee substitute for the main private school voucher bill, which could create a “tax credit scholarship” program. It would allow a business to receive a tax credit in exchange for a donation to an educational assistance organization that would distribute the scholarships to students who apply for them. Students in families earning up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level, or $60,000 for a family of four, would be eligible.

All floor amendments failed to pass.

An amendment filed by Sen. José Menéndez would have prohibited discrimination against students for sex, race, religion, and other factors. It was tabled despite a prior statement by the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Larry Taylor, that private schools electing to participate in the program would be required to accept all students.

Sen. Rodney Ellis also filed an amendment and reminded his colleagues about the state’s decision to not use the Common Core State Standards, choosing instead to require Texas public schools to use Texas’ own curriculum. He said that Texas should not hold private schools to a different standard than it does public schools.

Another amendment by Sens. José Rodríguez and Sylvia Garcia would have required private schools that participate in the program to comply with the same accountability standards as Texas public schools because public money would fund the program.

“This is not a voucher program, so this is not public money,” said Taylor, during discussion of the amendment. “This is private money.” He also said that the program would be limited to 15,000 to 16,000 students, and with enrollment growth in public schools averaging 80,000 students per year, public schools would not suffer a negative financial impact.

Rodriguez argued that if the money used for the scholarships would have been public funds, but instead is sent to private organizations, that those organizations would receive public funds and should be held to the same accountability standards as public schools. 

CSSB 4 passed the Senate with a vote of 17 to 13. It must be voted on once more to be final, then it will go to the House.