Gov. Greg Abbott expanded the call of the third special session on Tuesday, Oct. 31, adding a number of education-related topics including the “compensation and health coverage of certain public school employees” and the public school finance system. He tweeted that “[he and House Speaker Dade Phelan] reached an agreement on school choice,” indicating that Abbott may have gotten what he wanted from House leadership regarding school vouchers.
House Public Education Committee Chair Brad Buckley had previously filed HB 1, an omnibus education bill that includes a limited voucher program along with a number of changes to teacher compensation structures, school finance and the accountability system. Abbott was reportedly not on board with the provisions of HB 1, and had to date refused to allow lawmakers to consider education issues outside of school choice/vouchers. Notably, the expanded call proclaimed by Abbott almost exactly matches the caption of HB 1, so this could indicate that the bill is the governor’s preferred vehicle for a voucher plan at this point in the session, which ends Nov. 7.
Prior to the Oct. 31 proclamation, the House failed to reach a quorum to conduct any business on the floor. Seventy-two members, including 21 Republicans, were absent, preventing further discussion of border legislation and the referral of any education bills to committee. Democrats have expressed almost unanimous opposition to any voucher plan with more than 20 Republicans opposing them as well. With the governor touting his agreement with the speaker, the prospect of action on education issues could bring legislators back to the table, but HB 1 is far from a done deal.
This special session concludes on Nov. 7, so for any bills to cross the finish line, they would have to go through the whole process before then. If legislators fail to deliver a bill to the governor’s desk, he may call yet another special session to begin the process anew.