Local school leaders respond to standstill with school choice on House floor just days after testifying before the Public Education Committee

Published: May. 18, 2023 at 11:21 PM CDT
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AUSTIN, Texas (KWTX) - Lawmakers in Austin can’t seem to find common ground when it comes to whether or not to back the school voucher program that would use public funds to pay for private education.

Senate Bill 8, which is currently being debated in the House of Representatives particularly its Education Committee that’s chaired by local Representative Brad Buckley (TX-54).

Some local school leaders traveled to Austin to testify on both sides of the issue at the start of this week. But by the time the week ends, the committee will lose the ability to vote out any Senate bills before they hit the House floor.

In a public hearing Monday, two educators from Central Texas were among ten to testify before the House’s Education Committee on the issue of school choice.

Dr. Bobby Ott with Temple ISD is against the program while Dr. Tracy Hanson, the President of Oak Creek Academy in Killeen, supports school choice.

They’re on different sides of the issue but are both, in their own way, frustrated.

“I think a special session is inevitable, but not just because of school choice,” says Dr. Ott.

“People that don’t want to see the other side. They are totally closed off to listening to the reasoning,” Dr. Hanson explains.

Since their testimony, the bill has sat still. There was no vote after the hearing Monday or the next day when the committee met again. Buckley told the Texas Tribune that there’s no point in advancing the bill after a tweet from Governor Greg Abbott declared his vote to veto it in its current form anyway.

“I think the chair has the responsibility to protect its house committee members. If you already know, if you already been told by the governor that it doesn’t matter what you vote on, you’re going to veto it, then it’s a futile exercise to even go through that process,” Dr. Ott explains.

“All schools cannot fit all kids. We have to have options,” Dr. Hanson explains.

While things can change fast in the legislative session, Dr. Ott feels confident in his testimony.

“I don’t even think it’s at a standstill. In my mind, it’s never really got off the ground. I think it’s one elected official’s priority, and that priority just isn’t shared by the majority,” he says.

But Dr. Hanson is hopeful data from other states with similar programs can keep this bill alive and help get it the support it needs.

“There are 31 other states that only .5-5% are actually choosing that option, it’s not a large sum of money,” she explains.

As they watch closely to see what happens next, both educators agree that communicating with local representatives is a pillar to helping their students succeed.

“Elected officials, they don’t work for the governor. They work for who elects them. Those are the people that are most important to them, and that’s their local constituents. We stay in contact with them on a regular basis. Both representatives want to do what’s right by children. They have a heart for kids,” Dr. Ott says.

“I have been advocating since this bill was introduced, I’ve had my families advocating, we have written numerous letters to committee members and to House Representatives, I will continue to advocate as long as I have a breath in my body,” Dr. Hanson says.

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