Texas Gov. Greg Abbott holds teacher pay hostage in voucher fight

The Republican governor said he won't pass raises for teachers unless the House approves a voucher bill nearly identical to one lawmakers rejected over the summer.

click to enlarge Gov. Greg Abbott has made school vouchers, opposed by both Democrats and rural Republicans, a major priority. - Instagram / GovAbbott
Instagram / GovAbbott
Gov. Greg Abbott has made school vouchers, opposed by both Democrats and rural Republicans, a major priority.
The Texas Senate passed two separate bills education bills Thursday — one to create a school voucher program letting parents use taxpayer money to send their kids to private school, and another to provide raises to public school teachers, the Texas Tribune reports.

There's just one problem: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott reportedly said teachers won't see that raise unless the Texas House passes the school voucher bill first. The move essentially holds teacher's pay hostage over a piece of legislation widely opposed by Democrats and rural Republicans in the Texas House.

In an 18-13 vote, mostly along partisan lines, the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 1. Authored by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, the measure would allocate $8,000 in public funding to families who pull their kids out of public schools and enroll them in private ones, according to the Tribune.

Creighton's proposal is almost identical to Senate Bill 8, which died in the House this summer. For roughly two decades, voucher opponents in the House have balked at passing such legislation, arguing that it will devastate public schools, especially those in sparsely populated districts. 

In addition to the new voucher proposal, the upper chamber passed Senate Bill 2, also authored by Creighton, which would infuse Texas' public schools with $5.2 billion to go toward teacher raises. The money also would increase per-pupil spending and help deal with rising costs.

The bill would give a $5,000 one-time bonus to teachers working in districts with more than 5,000 students and a $10,000 one-time payout to educators teaching in districts with fewer than 5,000, the Tribune reports.

However, during a Thursday event hosted by conservative think tank the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Abbott told attendees he won't add SB 2 — the bill that includes teacher bonuses — to the docket unless the voucher bill passes both chambers, according to the Tribune.

"I want to make sure we provide a carrot to make sure this legislation gets passed," Abbott reportedly said.

Even so, House approval of the current voucher bill appears unlikely. Since SB 1 is virtually unchanged from the bill that failed during the regular session, it's unclear how many rural Republicans and Democrats will be willing to drop their opposition.

However, Creighton and his allies maintain that school vouchers won't siphon money from public schools because their funding is from the state's general revenue. SB 1 also includes an amendment that would temporarily give school districts with fewer than 5,000 students a one-time payment of $10,000 for every child who leaves the district.

Still, opponents argue one-time payments aren't enough to ensure public schools' longterm viability as student enrollment plummets. Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilbert Hinojosa said in an emailed statement that his party members in the House will "fight like hell" against vouchers.

“Public dollars belong in public schools. Period," Hinojosa said. "Corporate private school vouchers only exist to give handouts to wealthy families so their kids can keep attending private and religious schools — while working families foot the bill."
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About The Author

Michael Karlis

Michael Karlis is a Staff Writer at the San Antonio Current. He is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., whose work has been featured in Salon, Alternet, Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, Orlando Weekly, NewsBreak, 420 Magazine and Mexico Travel Today. He reports primarily on breaking news, politics...


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