The Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), the tax credit scholarship bill that will allow low income and special needs families who are in failing public schools to get assistance to pay for private tuition. SB 4 was authored by State Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and passed with bipartisan support. The final vote of 18-12 was taken on Tuesday, April 21.
“SB 4 establishes the Texas Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which provides parents of children trapped in failing schools an option to leave for academic or personal reasons. This program allows for private donors to contribute private dollars to give some of our most vulnerable students a chance for an education to better fit their needs,” Taylor told Breitbart Texas.
The bill sets up an initial $100 million in tax credits to fund those scholarships for low-income and special need students who are stuck in failing schools, to attend the school of their choice. Businesses who donate to the scholarship fund will receive a tax credit to help lower a portion of their franchise tax liability.
Paul Bettencourt, one of the bill’s co-author’s, previously called the bill a “great concept” that has successfully worked in 14 other states. The program allows businesses to donate up to 50 percent of their yearly franchise tax liability to one of 25 pre-approved “educational assistance organizations.”
“Since I joined the Texas Senate in 2007 I have pushed for a strong school choice bill to pass the Senate,” said Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. “This is the first time a bill of this caliber has ever made it out of the Texas Senate, and now an estimated 15,000 students will have more choice.”
The bill is modeled after a Florida program that started in 2010. Under the proposal, Texas students would receive tuition scholarships equal to 75 percent of the average funding per pupil in public schools. This is estimated to be about $5,900, according to the Dallas Morning News.
The eligible students must come from a family with an average income of about $60,000 or less for four members. The students would also have to currently attend a public school in a county with a population of at least 50,000.
“Giving our children the flexibility of attending a better school, for their future, is about giving them opportunity. No parent or student should ever feel trapped in a failing school,” Patrick added.
SB 4 has received as many cheers as jeers. It was a win for pro-school choice proponents like the Texas Parents Union (TXPU). The grassroots group believes in empowering every parent and student with the ability to “choose” is the important kind of education reform that Texas can implement.
TXPU’s Matt Prewett told Breitbart Texas, “We believe that tax credit scholarships are a very reasonable approach for expanding parent/student choice in public education because not all parents/students in Texas have access to a charter school. SB 4 would provide a mechanism for providing these students with an alternative to their district school in case they believe it isn’t a good fit.”
Teacher unions and public education lobbyists balk the most, claiming that it is a “voucher” program and insisting that it is “unfair” that money from their bottomless coffers would dry up when a student exited the public school system.
“This bill does not take away funding from public schools, but begins a new and innovative approach to school choice in Texas,” Taylor also told Breitbart Texas.
The Association of Texas Professional Educators was among the miffed because public school accountability could not be shackled to the bill. Taylor has maintained that he had no intentions of tethering those kinds of mandates onto private schools that would be paid for with private dollars.
Texas PTA also opposes SB 4. The statewide parent-teacher goodwill group is funded by families in Texas and half of those membership fees go into the pockets of national PTA initiatives including advocacy for the Common Core, which Breitbart Texas reported last year.
There were a few surprises in the voting. Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) voted for SB 4 while Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) and Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) did not. Burton, a strong school choice supporter felt, in part, that the way it was structured, SB 4 limited school choice options. Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), originally opposed, voted for SB 4.
The bill now moves onto the Texas House where opposition from the less school-choice friendly chamber is anticipated.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.