Sen­a­tor may re­duce scope of his school choice bill,

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

Amid con­cerns that he doesn’t have enough sup­port in the Se­nate, the au­thor of a bill that would di­vert some state money to help stu­dents pay for pri­vate school tu­ition, among other non-pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem ex­penses, is con­sid­er­ing scal­ing back the mea­sure.

Ac­cord­ing to a doc­u­ment re­ceived by some Capi­tol staff mem­bers, Sen. Larry Tay­lor, R-Friendswood, would limit the el­i­gi­bil­ity re­quire­ments of stu­dents. The changes ap­pear to ad­dress con­cerns of law­mak­ers from ru­ral ar­eas where few pri­vate schools ex­ist.

Stu­dents who live in coun­ties with fewer than 50,000 peo­ple would no longer be el­i­gi­ble for state money through so-called sav­ings ac­counts or tax credit schol­ar­ships un­less a school board ap­proves it.

Other changes be­ing con­sid­ered in­clude:

Lim­it­ing el­i­gi­bil­ity for sav­ings ac­counts to low-in­come stu­dents.

Re­duc­ing the an­nual cap for the tax credit schol­ar­ship from $100 mil­lion to $25 mil­lion.

Lim­it­ing el­i­gi­bil­ity to stu­dents who at­tended a Texas pub­lic school for one year prior.

The bill, as it was pre­vi­ously writ­ten, would al­low kinder­garten-aged stu­dents to qual­ify for the sav­ings ac­count even though they never at­tended pub­lic schools. By elim­i­nat­ing that pro­vi­sion, the bill might cost the state less money. Ac­cord­ing to the Leg­isla­tive Bud­get Board, the cur­rent ver­sion of the bill would cost $107 mil­lion over the next two years.

Tay­lor, who did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment, has said that the leg­is­la­tion would in­crease ed­u­ca­tion op­tions and im­prove the pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem by in­creas­ing com­pe­ti­tion. Cre­at­ing more school choice has been a pri­or­ity for Lt. Gov. Dan Pa­trick and Gov. Greg Ab­bott.

More than 60 of the 100 or so peo­ple who tes­ti­fied on the bill this month were in fa­vor, al­though 110 oth­ers reg­is­tered against the bill but did not speak.

The bill has faced re­sis­tance from Democrats and law­mak­ers rep­re­sent­ing ru­ral ar­eas. State Sen. Kel Seliger of Amar­illo was the only Repub­li­can on the Se­nate Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee to vote against the bill last week.

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.

The bill could be heard by the Se­nate in the com­ing days.

DEB­O­RAH CAN­NON / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Ear­lier this month, protesters op­posed to pub­lic money be­ing used to pay for pri­vate schools gath­ered at the Capi­tol dur­ing the Texas Latino Ed­u­ca­tional Coali­tion’s Day of Ac­tion.

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