Central Texas school leaders appear in ‘school choice’ public hearing at state capitol

Published: May. 15, 2023 at 5:23 PM CDT|Updated: May. 15, 2023 at 5:41 PM CDT
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TEMPLE, Texas (KWTX) - Two area school leaders represent both support and opposition to a highly debated bill centered around “school choice” during a public hearing within the Public Education Committee of the House of Representatives Monday morning.

The committee invited four people to speak in favor of Senate Bill 8, the so-called “school choice bill”, which included Dr. Tracy Hanson of Oak Creek Academy, a private school in Killeen, as well as six opposing the bill, including Temple Independent School District Superintendent, Dr. Bobby Ott.

The school choice, or so-called “voucher program” gives parents state money to send their kids to private schools.

The concept, however, according to Dr. Ott, doesn’t give parents a choice, rather the private schools with selective admission.

“This is not parent choice. Its not at all, because really the decision maker in this are the ones who run the selective admissions process,” Ott told KWTX Monday.

He says he was mostly there to answer questions and offer information about how the bill could impact his district and other public schools.

Aside from contention between Ott and a representative on the committee throughout the hearing, Ott says he thinks it went well and has received positive feedback.

“I heard some claps, I heard some light cheers maybe and when I walked out of the conference room itself, there was a group of people there in an overflow room and they were very complimentary and I received countless tweets, private messages, emails and text messages from people who are proud that I stood up for public education,” Ott said about the reaction to his testimony in opposition of the bill.

On the other side, Dr. Hanson says she got similar reaction from her community of those showing support for Senate Bill 8.

“I got a lot of kudos for my testimony a lot of text messages, thanking me. I had a lady come up to me crying saying ‘God Bless you, hang in there, you’re doing the right thing’,” Henson recalled.

She argued in front of the committee that families tour her school every week who ultimately can’t attend solely because they can’t afford it.

Henson says her school’s tuition is directly in line with the amount the state would offer through this bill, meaning if it passed, the nearly $10,000 from the state would cover a full year of tuition at Oak Creek Academy.

Both tell KWTX they’re not sure which way the committee will vote on the bill.

Governor Greg Abbott tweeted Sunday night ahead of the hearing that he plans to veto the bill, if it passes. Abbott has been a major advocate for the “school choice” model and says the current bill doesn’t include enough students.

Abbott also threatened to call a special legislative session should a school choice bill that he supports doesn’t get passed by the end of the regular session.

Dr. Ott replied directly to those tweets and told KWTX, “I think what the governor is having a hard time with, is having a hard time understanding that his priority is out of alignment with the majority of Texans.”

“The messages that come out of his social media not one time have I ever seen him mention what it does for kids. He’s never gone to a public school on his campaign trail to talk about the benefits,” Ott said.

The testimony from both schools are attached below:

Oak Creek Academy Testimony May 15
Oak Creek Academy Testimony May 15(Courtesy)
Oak Creek Academy Testimony May 15
Oak Creek Academy Testimony May 15(Courtesy)