Hundreds show up to speak at Texas House hearing over school voucher bill

Hundreds of people signed up to testify on the topic of education savings accounts on Tuesday as the Texas House considers one of Governor Greg Abbott's top priorities for the legislative session.

Education savings accounts would let people use public funds for private schools.

"There is not one school or one type of school that fits all children. Every child learns differently, and I think we need to give families the options they need," said Laura Colangelo, the executive director of the Texas Private Schools Association.


What you should know about education savings accounts, the voucher-like program championed by Gov. Greg Abbott

Texas is the latest state to pitch a version of the program, which lets parents who opt out of their local school districts use tax dollars to pay for private schooling.

For hours, parents and advocates of education savings accounts testified before a House committee on HB4340, the House version of the school voucher bill.

The Texas Senate passed a bill last week, creating $8,000 ESA's per student, but the House sent a strong statement when it voted down the use of public funds for private education in its budget bill.

READ MORE: Texas House, Senate at impasse over education savings accounts

"The money doesn’t actually go to the parents, it's in an account set for them. It never ends up in their pocket, but it also doesn’t belong to the school. The purpose of it is the kid, not the school," said State Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls), the author of the bill.

Frank's bill would give the poorest students access to funding first before opening the pool to wealthier households.

Multiple private school organizations came to testify along with special interest groups and advocates from Florida, which just passed its own school voucher expansion.

"This participation is not a mass exodus and allows districts time to adjust to enrollment changes," said Martin Lukin.

"I would have been the number of my friends that did not make it and ended in the same situation as their parents," said Hera Varmah from the American Federation for Children.

Some Democrats pushed back on the funding for this proposal.

"So $500 million the first year and then a 25%, according to the bill, increase every year, which strikes me as pretty rich considering in our public schools we have not had an increase in base allotment since 2019," said State Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D - Austin).

Another criticism is accountability. Democrats argue that private schools are not held to the same standards as public schools.

Laura Colangelo with the Texas Private Schools Association pointed to 19 approved TEA accrediting bodies that hold private schools accountable.

"This is a incredibly robust and holistic analysis of every part running a school. You are looking at finances, curriculum, health and safety," she said.

Public comment is expected to continue into the night.

Lawmakers tell FOX 4 a vote on the bill is unlikely to happen until next week.