AUSTIN (Nexstar) – Just four days after the Texas House voted to prohibit state funding for education savings accounts, the House Committee on Public Education considered a bill to establish just that.
House Bill 4340, by Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, is the lower chamber’s proposal to use state dollars to subsidize educational costs for families looking for alternatives to public education.
“The entire discussion around school choice… comes down to perspective in my opinion. Should parents be given options to educate their children?” Frank said to the committee on Tuesday. “When viewed through the eyes of the parent or child, I believe it’s hard to come to any other answer than ‘yes.’”
Frank’s bill would establish education savings accounts (ESAs), just like Texas Sen. Brandon Creighton’s Senate Bill 8, but with some key differences.
HB 4340 would prioritize families who would qualify for the ESAs into four tiers based on income level. The first priority group includes students who qualify for reduced-price meals. Rep. Frank said that includes families of four making up to $55,500 per year.
The second priority group includes families whose income is twice that. The third group is special needs students who do not already qualify under the first two tiers. The fourth priority group is all other students, who would be eligible to receive half of the total ESA value.
“There are a lot of people working very hard to get their kids in private schools, a lot of people skipping vacations, working hard,” Frank said. “We want to give those people help. But we also don’t want to basically pay for the whole thing.”
The bill allocates about $10,300 per ESA, an amount equal to 90% of the state average maintenance and operations tax revenue per student in average daily public school attendance. That’s nearly 30% more than the Senate’s version, which funds each ESA with $8,000.
While the Senate’s bill would not include students currently in private school, Frank’s bill would allow those students to qualify for half of the money.
“It’s unlikely there would be money there,” Frank said, clarifying there is unlikely to be money left over by the time the fourth priority group would qualify.
While the bulk of the debate over education savings accounts has been focused on public money going to private schools, the money could apply to a variety of educational expenses, including tuition, textbooks, uniforms, transportation, and tutoring.
More than 900 people signed up to speak at Tuesday’s committee hearing. After more than 10 hours of testimony, the committee left the bill pending.
The bill faces steep opposition in the House. Even if the bill passes out of committee, it is at least two dozen votes short of passing through the full House. Last week, the House voted 86-52 to block funding for the core tenant of the bill. Passage would require at least 76 members to support education savings accounts.
Supporters of the measure, however, frame that vote as positive progress towards their cause.