Di­vi­sive ed­u­ca­tion mea­sure passes Se­nate panel,

Stu­dents would get money to help pay for pri­vate schools.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Julie Chang jchang@states­man.com Con­tact Julie Chang at 512912-2565. Twit­ter: @juliechang1

The Texas Se­nate Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee on Thurs­day ap­proved a bill that would re­di­rect state money to help stu­dents pay for pri­vate school tu­ition among other non-pub­lic ed­u­ca­tional ex­penses.

Se­nate Bill 3, which has emerged as one of the most di­vi­sive ed­u­ca­tion mea­sures this ses­sion, won the ap­proval of seven se­na­tors in the com­mit­tee — Ed­die Lu­cio, Jr. of Brownsville was the only Demo­crat to vote in fa­vor — while three se­na­tors — Kel Seliger, R-Amar­illo; Royce West, D-Dallas; and Car­los Uresti, D-San An­to­nio — voted against it.

Seliger told his col­leagues that he was con­cerned that the bill would not hold pri­vate schools and other in­sti­tu­tions that would ben­e­fit from the bill to the same ac­count­abil­ity stan­dards as pub­lic schools. He also said he was con­cerned that pub­lic money could go to sup­port a Mus­lim pri­vate school that could teach anti-Amer­i­can prin­ci­ples.

“We must as Amer­i­cans ar­dently de­fend their right do that. What we’re not ob­li­gated to do is spend pub­lic money on in­doc­tri­na­tion and cur­ricu­lum like that,” he said.

SB 3, which sup­port­ers have called the school choice bill and op­po­nents have com­pared to pri­vate school vouch­ers, would cre­ate a sys­tem of so-called ed­u­ca­tion sav­ings ac­counts and tax credit schol­ar­ships.

Stu­dents leav­ing pub­lic school and kin­der­garten-aged chil­dren could use the sav­ings ac­counts to pay for a va­ri­ety of ed­u­ca­tion ser­vices, in­clud­ing tu­ition for pri­vate schools, on­line cour­ses and ed­u­ca­tional ther­a­pies. For those stu­dents who leave pub­lic school, SB 3 would re­di­rect a por­tion of the per-stu­dent state money the school dis­trict re­ceives to the sav­ings ac­counts.

A fam­ily of four whose in­come is at least $90,000 would re­ceive about $5,400 per year and a fam­ily who makes less than that would re­ceive $6,800. Stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties re­gard­less of in­come would re­ceive $8,200.

Low-in­come stu­dents could also qual­ify for tax credit schol­ar­ships to use to­ward pri­vate school tu­ition; busi­nesses that do­nate to the schol­ar­ship fund would re­ceive a tax credit — capped at $100 mil­lion per year — from the state.

State Sen. Van Tay­lor, R-Plano, who voted in fa­vor, said that SB 3 would save the state money be­cause pub­lic schools would be re­lieved of the stu­dent growth they’ve seen each year.

“Be­cause we’re ac­tu­ally spend­ing less money per child in this pro­gram, there would ac­tu­ally be more money per child in the pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem,” he said.

More than 100 people signed up to tes­tify on the bill on Tues­day dur­ing a com­mit­tee hear­ing that lasted more than nine hours.

Those who tes­ti­fied in fa­vor in­cluded out-of-state pol­icy ex­perts who touted sav­ings, parental over­sight of pri­vate schools, and com­pe­ti­tion in pub­lic schools that other state school choice pro­grams have cre­ated. Par­ents from Texas tes­ti­fied on how pub­lic schools failed their chil­dren and that they wanted more say in their chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion. Pri­vate school of­fi­cials touted their pro­grams.

Those who tes­ti­fied against the bill in­cluded pub­lic school of­fi­cials and their ad­vo­cates and teacher union rep­re­sen­ta­tives who said SB 3 would strip money from cash-strapped schools and would not im­prove pri­vate school ac­cess or the aca­demic per­for­mance of poor and mi­nor­ity chil­dren. At least one home school­ing mom said she feared more state reg­u­la­tions.

“We are con­tin­u­ing to work on this bill ... to make this a bill that we can pass,” com­mit­tee chair­man and au­thor of SB 3 Larry Tay­lor, R-Friendswood, said on Thurs­day.

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