Taylor writes bill to give parents power over their kids’ education
By Richard Lee
Texas Senate News
PARENTS could receive part of the money spent on Texas’ public education to send their children to a different school under a school choice plan unveiled by the county’s district 11 senator Larry Taylor and lieutenant governor Dan Patrick on Monday.
The plan was introduced in Taylor-authored senate bill 3, which aims to create school choice through two methods.
If it becomes law, the first would allow parents to receive a portion of the money intended to educate their child at a traditional public school, which averages about $9,000 per year. That money would be placed in a trust account and could be used only for educational costs such as private-school tuition or online courses.
The amount received would be based on need, ranging from 60 per cent of the cost for educating a student at a public school in a year for families earning more than twice the poverty-line income level to 75 per cent for poor families and 90 per cent for families with disabled children.
Senate education committee chair Taylor, below left, said the state would split the cost with school districts in the first year.
He added that the lack of school-choice programs in Texas is holding the state back, saying: “Thirty other states have school-choice programs across this nation. We are behind the curve.”
He added that, for Texas to remain economically sound “we need to pass school-choice legislation to give our students the opportunity to receive a great education tailored to their specific needs”.
The second method would allow the creation of tax-credit scholarship accounts in which people or businesses can donate money to the education of eligible children in exchange for a tax write-off.
The amount would be capped at $100 million per year to start and would be open to students whose families are below the 200 per cent federal poverty line threshold or who are in foster care or the children of armed-service members.
Patrick, below, said the plan seeks to give all students in Texas the right to seek a high-quality education, saying: “Every parent has a right to send their child to the school that they think is best for them”.
He said: “We already have school choice in Texas. If you are rich enough, you send your child to private school. But, if you’re not wealthy enough to do that, then you don’t have any options.”
The bill must be approved by the education committee before it can head to the full senate for consideration.
Also on Monday, senators the finance committee said they were disappointed to learn that there has been scant progress in keeping track of some of the state’s most vulnerable children.
At an interim hearing in October, the committee members had been shocked to learn that the whereabouts of more than 500 children at risk of great bodily harm or even death was unknown to the state’s child protective services system.
Following that meeting, the state acted to increase funds to hire investigators and caseworkers to help locate and protect the children. The funds were conditional on performance measures in which 90 per cent of priority-one children must be seen face-to-face by a CPS caseworker within 24 hours by May 1, with that threshold rising to 95 percent by August 1.
But on Monday family and protective services department executive director Hank Whitman, before the committe for his agency’s appropriation requests, dismayed its members by telling them 400 to 450 of the priority-one children are still unaccounted for.
Whitman said that, even with the help of law-enforcement agencies, it’s very difficult to locate the children.
That didn’t sit well with committee chair Jane Nelson, who told him: “We gave you everything you said you need to do that. That is our highest priority. We need to find these kids.”
She added: “We’re going to continue to prioritize these kids but hear me – we’ve given you what you said you need…
“Your agency gets a total of $3.8 billion. If I had my way, we’d put all $3.8 billion into finding these kids and protecting them. If we don’t do that, what else