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Texas House Republicans join Democrats to kill school choice

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Bethany Blankley

(The Center Square) – After multiple groups lauded an omnibus education bill that passed a House committee, including a school choice measure, several House members on late Friday stripped it from the bill. Twenty-one Republicans joined Democrats to do so.

Rep. John Raney, R-College Station, filed an amendment to remove the school choice provision from the bill, which would have created Texas' first Education Savings Account. The House voted 84-63 to pass Raney's amendment, effectively killing school choice. 

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"I believe in my heart that using taxpayer dollars to fund an entitlement program is not conservative and is bad public policy, period," Raney said on the floor.

During a heated exchange with other members, an outcry broke out in the chamber, with people jeering and shouting. House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, struck his gavel and threatened to clear the room if order wasn't restored.

Rep. Brad Buckley, R-Killeen, who authored the bill, said he would send it back to committee. It's unclear if it will go anywhere. 

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This is the fourth special session Governor Greg Abbott has called specifically to pass school choice after the Senate previously passed education bills. It ends the first week in December. He has said he will keep calling a special legislative session until the legislature passes a school choice bill.

"I will continue advancing school choice in the Texas Legislature and at the ballot box, and will maintain the fight for parent empowerment until all parents can choose the best education path for their child," Governor Abbott told the Austin American-Statesman. "I am in it to win it."

"The small minority of pro-union Republicans in the Texas House who voted with the Democrats will not derail the outcome that their voters demand," he added.

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Lt. Governor Dan Patrick issued a statement saying, "the Texas Senate has led on school choice since I became Lieutenant governor. The Senate has passed school choice in 2015, 2017 and four times this year. I am stunned that 21 House Republicans will continue to fight against parents and denied them the right to choose a school they think is best for their child. These members apparently think their own view is more important than the views of their voters of which over 80 percent of Republicans support school choice along with the majority of independents and many Democrats."

Phelan has yet to issue a statement on what transpired.

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Austin Democrat James Talarico said, "We did it. We just defeated Greg Abbott's voucher scam. The People's House has spoken. I'm so proud of the bipartisan coalition in the Texas House that defended our schools and our kids."

In addition to including a school choice measure, the bill expanded funding for teacher salaries and public schools, expanded the size of the TEA and failed virtual learning programs. It also created a virtual reality metaverse program whereby students could learn as avatars. Several of the measures were highly criticized over concerns about more money being poured into programs without accountability for improved educational outcomes.

The 21 Republicans who voted with Democrats to kill school choice, according to the unofficial vote count, include: Allison; Bailes; Bell; K.; Burns; Clardy; Darby; Dean; Geren; Holland; Kuempel; Lambert; Murr; Price; Raney; Rogers; Shine; Smith; Thompson, F; and Vandeaver.