Texas lawmakers split ahead of ‘School Choice Week’

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Thousands of people are expected to head to the Capitol this week for ‘School Choice Week.” Many push for using public tax dollars for private and home school education for Texans. A senate bill creating “Education Savings Accounts” will be filed in the coming days.

With four young boys, Melissa Ferrell has a lot to worry about. Two go to private school and two go to public school. She had to fight for a year to get her 11-year-old son with Down syndrome, Sam, into special education.

“Haven’t had the funding, haven’t had materials even,” Ferrell said. “They didn’t have enough money to buy a reading program for special needs kids. You know, that’s pretty frustrating.”

Another son has dyslexia, another has ADHD. She says these students don’t always work well in a public school.

“I just see so many people trying to do their best and their limitations seems to be funding,” said Ferrell. “I just think maybe it’s time to try another option because trying to fix it has not worked yet.”

She’s now interested in an idea which would give over the amount of tax dollars spent per student to the parent to decide where to spend it.

“We have school choice, if you’re rich enough. Or, how about if you move,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a keynote address to the conservative think tank the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He leads the Texas Senate with many lawmakers who support giving tax dollars over to parents.

Leaders in the Texas House have concerns about what the student will learn and don’t want public money to leave state coffers without financial and academic accountability.

“You can’t put lipstick on this pig,” said longtime Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) at a Texas Tribune panel in West Texas. “There’s no accountability for the performance of that child in that school.”

Two years ago, during the last legislative session, the Senate passed a bill that would have given businesses tax breaks for donating to private school scholarships. It did not pass the House.

This year, the Texas House wants to put $1.5 billion more into the system if they change the formulas.

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