AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas House all but buried school vouchers. Could the Senate do the same with the school finance fix?
After the Senate approved a sweeping bill offering taxpayer funds to private and religious schools, the House overwhelmingly passed language in its version of the state budget forbidding the practice — likely killing state-subsidized "school choice."
On Wednesday, the House is scheduled to approve a $1.6 billion bill altering how Texas pays for its public schools. It raises per-student funding by about $200 to $5,350 a year and increases money for educating students with dyslexia while tweaking the current "Robin Hood" system under which school districts in wealthy parts of Texas share property tax revenue with those in poorer areas.
The bill's sponsor, Houston Republican Rep. Dan Huberty, says it's not a full school finance overhaul but will lay the groundwork for larger changes that must be made in coming years. Huberty heads the House Public Education Committee and said even before the budget vote against vouchers that he considered state subsidized school choice a non-starter.
But if his bill clears his own chamber it will go to Republican Sen. Larry Taylor of Friendswood, who heads the Senate Education Committee. Taylor worked long and hard shepherding the school choice bill through the Senate and expressed disappointment that the House scuttled the issue without even considering his bill.
Taylor hasn't said if he'll ensure that Huberty's school finance bill never makes it out of his committee. Asked about such differing classroom priorities between the two chambers, meanwhile, Huberty said he can't control what happens in the Senate but hoped his proposal will advance because Texas' outdated school finance system so badly needs improving.
Since the Texas Supreme Court ruled last summer that while deeply flawed, the school finance system is minimally constitutional, though, no legislative fix is required.
So, the major bill the House will spend hours passing this week could be all for naught — just like the Senate's voucher bill before it.
Here are two other top issues to watch this week in the Texas Legislature:
HOUSE 'BATHROOM BILL'
A key House committee is set to hear Wednesday a bill prohibiting local governments from enacting anti-LGBT discrimination ordinances while voiding any already approved around Texas.
The proposal by Carrollton Republican Rep. Ron Simmons is the House's de facto version of the "bathroom bill," which sailed through the Senate despite a similar law in North Carolina last year causing national uproar, widespread boycotts and, eventually, a drastic rollback of what that state approved.
Unlike the Senate bill, Simmons' proposal doesn't require transgender Texans to use public bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates. It could, however, potentially have an even greater impact by prohibiting cities, counties and school districts from making policy designed to better accommodate transgender people.
If the House advances its own 'bathroom bill,' that will likely further hinder passage of the measure approved by the Senate. And the Senate version already looked like a longshot to survive given strong opposition by business groups and Republican House Speaker Joe Straus, as well as Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's failure to publicly endorse it.
ARMING FIRST RESPONDERS
Eligible for a floor vote starting when the Senate returns to work on Tuesday is a bill allowing paramedics and other first-responders — even volunteer firefighters — to carry concealed handguns on duty.
Sen. Don Huffines' bill has been listed on the "local and consent" calendar, making it eligible for passage with minimal debate. No additional training is required for emergency personnel already licensed to carry concealed handguns.
Huffines, a Dallas Republican, has argued that the "risk of assault for EMS workers is roughly 30 times higher when compared to the average occupational risks in the United States," while citing first responders being summoned to a sniper attack in downtown Dallas that killed five police officers last summer.
A similar bill filed in the House has cleared committee but not yet been scheduled for a floor vote there.