Lit­tle sup­port in House panel for pri­vate school tax credit,

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Julie Chang jchang@states­ Con­tact Julie Chang at 512-912-2565. Twit­ter: @juliechang1

Un­like a ma­jor­ity of their coun­ter­parts in the Texas Se­nate and Gov. Greg Ab­bott, sev­eral mem­bers of a House panel on Tues­day showed lit­tle sup­port for a bill that would help sup­ple­ment pri­vate school tu­ition for school­child­ren.

Ab­bott has made such a bill a spe­cial leg­isla­tive ses­sion agenda item, even though pub­lic school ad­vo­cates have called the schol­ar­ships a voucher scheme by law­mak­ers who crit­ics say should be fo­cus­ing on build­ing up pub­lic schools in­stead of tak­ing stu­dents and fund­ing out of them. Pro­po­nents of the schol­ar­ships say they give a small num­ber of stu­dents who aren’t get­ting the nec­es­sary ser­vices in their pub­lic schools the op­por­tu­nity to find a bet­ter fit for them.

Un­der House Bill 253 by Rep. Ron Sim­mons, R-Car­roll­ton, pub­lic school stu­dents who have dis­abil­i­ties can qual­ify for up to $10,000 in tax credit schol­ar­ships to at­tend a pri­vate school. Stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties who want to stay in pub­lic school would get some money, too — up to $500 in 2019 and in­creas­ing 5 per­cent ev­ery year after that.

The tax credit schol­ar­ships and ed­u­ca­tion as­sis­tance pro­gram would be funded by do­na­tions from in­sur­ance com­pa­nies, who in re­turn would re­ceive a tax credit from the state, capped at $75 mil­lion each fis­cal year.

“There will be some stu­dents that fall through the crack just be­cause (a pub­lic school) just doesn’t fit their par­tic­u­lar need and I’m just try­ing to pro­vide some hope for those chil­dren,” said Sim­mons, who added only a small num­ber of stu­dents will use the schol­ar­ship.

Chair of the House Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee Dan Hu­berty, R-Hous­ton, said he wasn’t con­vinced that the schol­ar­ship was the best so­lu­tion to help­ing spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents. Through the hours­long hear­ing on Tues­day, he re­peat­edly men­tioned other ef­forts from the House, in­clud­ing a bill he has res­ur­rected from the reg­u­lar leg­isla­tive ses­sion that would give school districts grants to shore up ser­vices for stu­dents with autism.

Fel­low com­mit­tee mem­bers Diego Ber­nal, D-San An­to­nio; Harold Dut­ton, D-Hous­ton; and Joe Deshotel, D-Beau­mont, also raised con­cerns about the bill. An­other mem­ber Gary VanDeaver, R-New Bos­ton, in­tro­duced in the hear­ing Tues­day a bill that would help spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents in pub­lic schools by cre­at­ing a $10 mil­lion per year pro­gram to help them re­ceived ser­vices such as tu­tor­ing and ed­u­ca­tional ther­apy.

More than 50 peo­ple signed up to speak on HB 253 Tues­day. Many of them were in fa­vor of the bill, in­clud­ing pri­vate school of­fi­cials and par­ents with chil­dren with spe­cial needs for whom pub­lic schools had failed.

“I have nine years ... to get him ready to be an adult,” said Katy res­i­dent Agatha Thi­bodeaux, whose son has autism. “I don’t have time for the school district to fig­ure it out through lengthy pro­cesses.”

Among those who spoke against it were pub­lic school sup­port­ers who warned that par­ents who choose pri­vate school give up fed­eral ed­u­ca­tion laws that pro­tect chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties and that even with the schol­ar­ship, tu­ition would still be un­af­ford­able for many fam­i­lies.

HB 253 is sim­i­lar to Se­nate Bill 2, which passed out of the Se­nate last week.

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