While President Donald Trump called upon Congress this week to pass education legislation that funds school choice for low-income students nationwide, Texas House Education Committee Chairman Representative Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) struck a blow to school choice, declaring it a “dead” issue in the state’s current legislative session.
Tuesday, in an interview with the Texas Tribune, Huberty vowed to block school choice bills from even getting a hearing in the House Education Committee. When asked if there was anything other legislators could do to get him to change his mind, Huberty said “no.”
In response to Huberty sounding the death knell, sources since told Breitbart Texas there will be no increase in public school funding from the Legislature unless a school choice bill passes.
Huberty wants the Senate to provide additional funding for public education. Last week, he addressed public education lobbyist groups, the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) and Texas Association of School Boards (TASB), telling them that fixing public school financing was a top House priority. Though, after vowing to unilaterally kill school choice bills the moment they hit the House, sources also told Breitbart Texas, “All of Huberty’s bills are dead on arrival in the Senate.”
Huberty, a former Humble school district board member, has not hidden his anti-school choice stance. On Monday, the Fast Growth School Coalition honored him. This group lobbies for rapid development and spending on building new public schools statewide. He told them: “Vouchers are a solution in search of a problem.”
In the aftermath of Huberty’s remarks, Representative Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) unveiled House Bill 1335, an education savings account (ESA) for special needs and at-risk students like children in foster care or those who are homeless. If passed, it would allow funds to go with a child towards accredited private schools. On Thursday, Ross Leake, spokesman for Simmons, told Breitbart Texas the funding mechanism in Simmon’s bill is almost identical to Senate Bill 3, authored by Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), the Senate Education Committee Chairman.
Leake said Simmons remains optimistic about his bill passing in the legislature. “We just believe it’s a little too early to consider anything dead as far as legislation goes. There’s still plenty of time to sit down and work with various members and craft language in a way that may be more amenable to the Chairman and to other members.” He underscored, “This matter is very near and dear to Representative Simmon’s heart and, therefore, we are going to move ahead.”
Simmons, the father of a young adult special needs son, told reporters: “My wife and I know firsthand the challenges parents of a special needs child face when looking for the educational environment that will best serve their child’s needs.”
Also, on Thursday, Kingwood Tea Party President Robin Lennon drafted a resolution asking the Texas State Republican Executive Committee (SREC) to censure Huberty, who is her District 127 representative. She told Breitbart Texas, “He threw down the gauntlet and I’m going to pick it up.”
By email, she said: “I am not asking Representative Huberty to work to pass the bill once it makes it to the floor. I ask only that this issue of importance to the Governor, Lt. Governor, and the People of Texas be brought to the floor for debate by all our Representatives and be voted on.”
Lennon noted, through his actions, Huberty is ignoring the 2016 Republican Party of Texas (RPT) platform school choice plank. It states:
We believe that all children should have access to quality education. We support the right to choose public, private, charter, or home education. We support the distribution of educational funds in a manner that they follow the student to any school, whether public, private, charter, or home school through means of tax exemptions and/or credits.
She also indicated 87 percent of Harris County voters, of HD 127 is a part, supported a 2012 school choice resolution.
In January, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick asked the House for an up-or-down vote on school choice legislation this session. He tweeted: “Don’t block a bill because when you block a bill on education, you block those children’s futures.”
Patrick has championed school choice since joining the Texas Senate in 2007. In the last legislative session, the House squashed the tax credit scholarship Senate Bill 4, also authored by Taylor. It would have benefitted low-income and special needs students.
The state’s education establishment, though, asserts the way to fix public education is to spend more taxpayer dollars on the existing system, arguing that school choice undermines public school by diverting funding from their coffers into those of private institutions with little or no accountability. Like Huberty, many support choices only within the public school system such as magnets, intra- and inter- district transfers, and open enrollment charter schools. Even then, opponents push for teacher union-backed community schools in place of charters when a failing public school faces closure.
Still, at the end of the day, Taylor’s spokesman, Matt Welch, told Breitbart Texas, “The Senate intends to pass a school choice bill.”
Republican Party Chairman Tom Mechler and Huberty did not respond to our requests for comments.
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.