Normally, we can look at a legislator’s vote on a bill and easily determine if they were for or against it. Simply put, constituents think a “yes” vote means the legislator supported the legislation and a “no” vote means they opposed it. But, at times our complicated political process is not that transparent. That’s what happened on Senate Bill 3 (SB3), the voucher bill.
Three Republicans voted against SB3 on the final vote – senators Seliger, Nichols, and Huffman. However, only one of those three Republican senators, Joan Huffman, voted “yes” on the preceding vote to suspend the regular order of business and allow SB3 to proceed. This was actually the critical vote that allowed SB3 to survive.
No bill may move forward for a final vote unless 19 senators agree to “suspend the order of business” and advance the bill. The same 18 senators who voted for SB3 in the final vote also voted to “suspend the order of business.” Senator Huffman was the 19th necessary and, ultimately, deciding vote to save SB3 and allow it to move forward for a final vote.
What is most troubling about this is that Senator Huffman stated she was against SB3 and admitted it is not good for the school districts she represents. Didn’t she know SB3 had the votes to pass if brought to a final vote? If so, why would she vote to advance the bill? Senators Seliger and Nichols stood firmly on their positions, voting against suspending the order of business and against SB3. Why didn’t Senator Huffman?
The impact on Senator Huffman’s students and constituents in Fort Bend ISD and Houston ISD is this:
More money will be taken away from students in an already underfunded system. School districts spend money whether the student is in the seat or not because they must plan and make assumptions based on demographic data, just like the state does. Senator Taylor and Lt. Gov. Patrick are ignoring the fact that schools have fixed costs but, more importantly, they are ignoring the fact that they already do not provide enough money to cover the millions of dollars in unfunded mandates they pass on to local taxpayers.
FBISD alone pays an estimated $60 million per year in unfunded mandates. In addition, experts have estimated that, in order for all students to meet the rigorous state academic standards, Texas will have to increase funding by $8 billion per year. Instead, the senate wants to take up to $8,156 per student out of the already stretched public education budget.
To say the state will “save” money as a result of vouchers is disingenuous. The state actually makes money off the backs of local taxpayers through the school funding formulas. The state currently gains over $3.4 billion each biennium by taking your property tax dollars from your local schools (called “recapture”).
This is estimated to increase to $5 billion in the current budget. The $5 billion will go into the state’s general fund and is not required to be spent on education. What the state is really doing through SB3 is not saving but taking even more of your property tax dollars while continuing to leave students in your local schools without adequate funding.
Finally, arguably, the hardest and most expensive student population to educate is students receiving special education services. SB3 allows for more money to be taken out of public education funding and given to individual students to attend expensive, segregated private school. SB3 does nothing to solve the problems in the special education system but, in fact, sets Texas back 50 years in the fight for inclusion of people with disabilities in our schools and society.
Vouchers will only segregate them in disability-only private schools and leave those left in public school to continue without adequate funding or services. Texas is ranked 49th in inclusive practices by the United Cerebral Palsy “The Case for Inclusion” study. SB3 puts us on the road to being dead last.
Now that SB3 has passed the Senate it moves on to the House and will likely be added this week as a budget amendment. If that happens, representatives will vote on Thursday, April 6. Please ask your representatives to vote against the voucher amendment and put taxpayer dollars back into your local schools.
The time for political game playing must end. Republicans are supposed to be the party of small government and less regulation, but the public education system is built on excessive regulation that usurps local governance. Now is the time to demand that our legislators put what’s best for their constituents first and start working with local officials to offer viable solutions for all students. Now is the time to take a stand and demand better for our children and for Texas.
— Kristin Tassin
President, Fort Bend ISD
Board of Trustees