The Texas Senate passed a controversial bill earlier this week that would give state money to parents to spend on private schools, supporting Governor Greg Abbott‘s long-held pledge to push for “school choice” for Texan families.
For months now, the Republican governor has been rallying to pass a measure that would allow parents to decide “which education option is best” for their kids by giving them enough money to take the children out of public school.
While the kind of measure Abbott has been pushing for has been criticized by many, including teachers, who accused him of trying to defund public schools and run them to the ground, the Republican governor said “nothing could be further from the truth.”
“It’s just factually incorrect,” he said, as reported by Fox 26 Houston in April. “Per-student funding for public schools is at an all-time high and this session we are going to add even more money for public education, as well as teacher pay rises.”
Abbott added that his leadership is funding public schools “better than ever before.”
On Thursday, the Texas Senate—which, with 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats, is controlled by the GOP—passed a bill that would create the school voucher program Abbott has been calling for. This program would use state funds to create education saving accounts that would allow parents to access $8,000 of taxpayer money to move their kids into private schools, including paying for fees, uniforms, textbooks, and more.
The legislation—Senate Bill 1—will now move to the Texas House, where it’s expected to receive a little more scrutiny, but if passed it’s sure to be signed into law by Abbott. An almost identical bill, Senate Bill 8, passed the Senate in April but was killed by the House.
On the same day, the Senate also passed Senate Bill 2, which would infuse $5.2 billion into school districts to help teachers with rising costs.
During an event on Thursday at the conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation, Abbott said he will add teacher pay raises to his agenda for an incoming special session to “provide a carrot to make sure this legislation gets passed.”
While supporters of the voucher program think parents should be given the opportunity to send their kids to private schools if the public system doesn’t meet their needs, opponents say the measure will harm the already struggling public school schools.
Republican Senator Brandon Creighton, who authored SB 1, said the measure won’t hurt public schools, adding that the money to fund the program will come from general revenue and not the Foundation School Program which funds Texas’ K-12 public schools.
But public school funds in Texas are based on the number of students enrolled in them, which means schools are likely to miss out on significant sums if parents start taking their kids away.
An amendment included in SB 1 would give school districts with less than 5,000 children $10,000 for every student removed by their parents thanks to the voucher program for three years.
Newsweek contacted Abbott’s press office for comment by email on Friday.