School Voucher Battle Expected To Erupt In Texas Legislature

Frustrated voucher proponents in Texas are exploring new avenues to bring taxpayer support for private religious education to the Lone Star State.

For years, voucher bills have been introduced in the state legislature, but none have passed. This year, supporters are ready to try some new tactics to push the idea.

The Houston Chronicle reported Dec. 6 that state Rep. Frank Corte, a San Antonio Republican, has pre-filed a bill that would establish a voucher program in six of the largest school districts in Texas.

Corte says rather than submit the bill as free-standing legislation, he will attempt to attach it as a rider to a larger bill that lawmakers are required to pass. He’s thinking of an omnibus measure that finances the Texas Education Agency or some other wide-ranging school-finance legislation.

“We’re probably at a better position this term than any time before to try to bring [vouchers] to fruition,” Corte told the newspaper. Gov. Rick Perry and several politically powerful business groups in the state support vouchers.

But public education leaders are vowing to block the proposal and say they are willing to match Corte’s hardball tactics. Groups that oppose taxpayer funding of private religious schools say they are even willing to risk a shutdown of the state education agency.

“If they get into playing that kind of chicken, we’ll play,” said Richard Kouri, a lobbyist for the Texas State Teachers Association.

The Coalition for Public Schools, an umbrella organization that includes several Texas groups, has also vowed to oppose vouchers.

“What is in the public interest is to have a fabulous public school in every neighborhood,” Carolyn Boyle, coordinator of the Coalition, said. “There’s too many people who want their hands on public money.”

A voucher bill reached the floor of the Texas House of Representatives in 1997 but failed on a tie vote. Bills have been introduced repeatedly since then, but none has gathered any momentum.

In South Carolina, meanwhile, private-school aid proponents are gearing up for an attempt to pass tuition tax credits. In early December, state Rep. Doug Smith, a Spartanburg Republican, filed a bill that would create a tax credit program in the state.

State Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum said she opposes the idea.

“The biggest problem is public schools are challenged by accountability, and here we want to give money to schools that have no accountability,” she said.

South Carolina public schools, Tenenbaum noted, are already underfunded. Smith’s bill, she said, would only mean less funding for the system.