Voucher drama | TCTA
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Voucher drama

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A hastily-called meeting to vote on an extensive bill that includes a new state testing system and a voucher plan was shot down in an unusual parliamentary move Wednesday.

After the Senate sent SB 8 (creating a voucher program via education savings accounts, or ESAs) to the House, it sat in the House Public Education Committee for nearly a month without being scheduled for a hearing. The House had already taken a “practice vote” on vouchers via an amendment to the state budget that prevents the expenditure of public funds on a school voucher program. The passage of that amendment signaled that the House would likely not approve separate legislation creating a voucher plan.

On Tuesday, a draft committee substitute for SB 8 was released, along with the news that the committee would consider the new version in a “formal meeting” Wednesday — an alternative to a traditional hearing that excludes public testimony. Included in the 80-page bill was not only a revised ESA plan (limited to students receiving special education services and educationally disadvantaged students in schools rated D or lower) but replacing STAAR with the Texas Success Initiative Assessment that is currently being piloted in some school districts. The restructured testing program would narrow the required tests and remove some of the high stakes associated with the current system, but the bill's through-year testing raises concerns about more tests.

The revised assessment system and narrowed voucher eligibility were clearly designed to sway House members who have to date opposed a voucher program.

In order to meet Wednesday for a vote while the House was in session, Chair Brad Buckley asked the House for permission to meet. Such a request is usually granted without discussion, but Rep. Ernest Bailes objected and a record vote was taken — the request to meet was denied on a vote of 65-76.

A hearing was later scheduled for Monday, May 15; while testimony will be allowed, it will be limited to invited witnesses only.