School voucher debate gets underway at Texas Capitol

The Texas Senate Education Committee hearing began Wednesday, March 22 with SB 9. 

The legislative package, estimated to cost about $3 billion, would do several things:

  • Provide more pay for teachers
  • Create new policy to reduce classroom pressures on teachers
  • Increase funding for retention

State Sen. Brandon Creighton, who filed SB 9, said the legislation would even take on a long-running problem involving retirement.

"Right now, federal law prevents teachers, if they have a deceased spouse that are eligible for Social Security benefits, a teacher cannot receive the Social Security benefits of their deceased spouse," said Sen. Creighton, who explained Congress would be urged to address the problem.

SB 9, generally, received positive feedback. During the hearing, it was suggested the pay hike increase should go from about $4,000 to up to $10,000, and that the pay not be limited to teachers. 

Sharon McKinney, the Superintendent with Port Aransas ISD, was among those who testified. She gave committee members an assignment.

"We are concerned about the lack of local discretion that districts need to also boost pay for district employees, such as bus drivers, food service personnel, janitorial and maintenance staff and our educational aides in the classrooms. Texas is indeed facing a teacher shortage, but I fear that we will face an even greater teacher shortage if we are not able to hire staff to fill those other critical positions," said McKinney.


Most people who came to the hearing were there for hot button issues, legislation like school vouchers. A statewide voucher program, created by several bills, would involve what’s called Education Savings Accounts. Those at the hearing had differing opinions about who benefits, and at what cost.

"So what it looks like if school vouchers pass is that, it's not really parental choice, it's school choice, because they'll get to choose the students that they accept with the voucher money or the ESAs or whatever you want to call it," said Lana Hansen.

Hansen believes the ESAs will be a concern for families with special needs children. She believes most will not be able to get into private schools even if they have money from the new account. 

Operators of a private school in Dallas believes ESAs will provide access. Joshua and Chrystal Bernard, who run Braveheart Christian Academy, testified in support of the ESA legislation.

"Our families are regular, everyday people. And so we have single moms who are sacrificing every single day. They're debating, do I pay my rent or do I pay my school tuition? But they see the value of education in a low student teacher ratio environment, individualized learning character. And they know that this could be a huge relief from them financially if this bill is passed," said Chrystal Bernard.

In the hearing, a long discussion took place over SB 8, it authorizes ESAs totaling $8,000 per child. To help school districts with enrollments of less than 20,000, those districts would get $10,000 for every student that leaves under the program. 

The compensation payout did not sway those who remain opposed to school vouchers. Another ESA bill offers up to $10,000 per child. 

Votes for the bills are not expected at this time. Most of the bills are expected to eventually be sent to the full senate for consideration.