FROM: Carolyn Boyle
The past two weeks have been a whirlwind. I'd like to take a few minutes to reflect on what has happened and tell you what may happen in the next 44 days in the Texas Legislature. First, we'll look back:
Press Conferences: The Coalition for Public Schools held a press conference April 4 on the steps of the Texas Capitol to release financial projections on how much money could be drained from public schools by the three private school voucher bills: H.B. 12, H.B. 1263, and H.B. 3042. The news coverage was terrific, with really good reporting by metropolitan daily newspapers and Austin TV and radio. Newspaper stories were included on all the Austin-based print and electronic clipping services, resulting in widespread readership. The word at the Capitol the following morning was that legislators were "spooked" by the numbers we released. While some of the bill authors questioned the Coalition's financial projections, the numbers are REAL. The projections were prepared by Cindy M. Russell, an experienced school finance consultant who we hired. In the first biennium, H.B. 12 could drain $2.2 billion from public schools and H.B. 1263 could drain $603 million. The cost of H.B. 3042 is inestimable, as every public school student in Texas could receive a private school tuition voucher. Lawmakers must know the worst case financial scenarios about any legislation they are considering. We believe bipartisan opposition to vouchers continues to grow!
On Tuesday, April 5, another anti-voucher press conference was held on the Capitol steps by the League of United Latin American Citizens, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, People for the American Way, and other groups. A major point made was that two recently-created pro-voucher organizations are funded by wealthy special interests and grants from the U.S. Department of Education awarded under former Education Secretary Rod Paige. Hispanic CREO (Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options) and BAEO (Black Alliance for Educational Options) don't speak for all minorities, said LULAC, NAACP, and MALDEF. The long-established advocacy organizations for Hispanics and African-Americans oppose private school vouchers.
Public Hearing on Voucher Bills: An 11-hour public hearing on the private school voucher bills was held April 5 before the House Committee on Public Education. As expected, it was a mob scene outside the locked hearing room, with everyone scrambling for seats as soon as the door was unlocked. At least 100 voucher supporters had been bused to the hearing, and they filled a large number of seats in the hearing room. But our side had many assertive seat-grabbers, so voucher opponents had a visible presence. There also was an overflow room with the hearing projected on a large screen. The first 5+ hours (2:15-7:15 p.m.) of the hearing were devoted SOLELY to voucher supporters. We had hoped the chairman would alternate pro and con speakers. The testimony from about 7:15 p.m. to 1 a.m. was by more than 40 voucher opponents, and they did a FANTASTIC job! So authentic, heartfelt, compelling, rational, wise, moving... You may listen to the hearing at this URL:
The Voucher Bills: At the end of the April 5 public hearing, Chairman Grusendorf left the three voucher bills pending. We thought one bill might be voted out of committee April 12, but it was not. The longer it takes to get a voucher bill out of committee, the harder it becomes to get the bill all the way through the process before the end of the session. May 12 is the last day for the Texas House to consider non-local House bills and joint resolutions on second reading, and that is 25 days away. Our hope is that House members who are not on the Public Education Committee are asking members of that committee not to bring voucher bills to a vote on the House floor. Legislators are being influenced by the large number of phone calls, letters and emails they have been receiving. Your efforts are making a difference!
Also still pending in the House Committee is H.B. 1445, the "virtual vouchers" bill that allows students in home-schools and private schools to receive public funding to take electronic and on-line courses. Rep. Jerry Madden is working on a committee substitute, which may be considered by the committee on Tuesday, April 19.
The three most commonly mentioned scenarios about what could happen with the voucher bills (and there are more than three scenarios) are:
Scenario 1. Voucher bills will be passed out of the House Committee on Public Education this week (either at the Tuesday committee meeting or at a quickie desk meeting on the House floor) and sent to the Calendars Committee and then on to the House floor. Some sources are saying a state leader has promised a key voucher proponent that a voucher bill will make it to the House floor this session.
Scenario 2. The voucher bills will not be passed by the House Committee as stand-alone bills, but in the House committee or on the House or Senate floor vouchers will be amended on to the Texas Education Agency Sunset bill (see below).
Scenario 3. This is always my dream scenario: The wise and fiscally conservative members of the House and Senate will assertively say taxpayers cannot afford private school vouchers. They will drop consideration of any voucher legislation and put all their focus and resources on strengthening every neighborhood public school.
Texas Education Agency Sunset Bill
Background: Under the Texas Sunset law, the Texas Education Agency is set to be abolished on September 1, 2005 unless it is reauthorized by the legislature. (Every state agency is on a 12-year cycle for review and reauthorization. You may read more about the process at www.sunset.state.tx.us
The "Christmas Tree" Phenomenon: The Sunset process as originally envisioned was well-intentioned and in the public interest...but that was before the Christmas tree phenomenon appeared. Today Sunset bills tend to start out as relatively short, well-researched bills; however, then special interests start putting "ornaments" on the "Christmas tree." Sometimes these ornaments are seen as good, sometimes as bad, depending on the perspective. Because the TEA Sunset bill has a broad caption--"relating to the continuation and functions of the Texas Education Agency and regional education service centers"--amendments on myriad functions of the agency are germane for amendments. As a result, many people believe there will be efforts to amend the Sunset bill to include vouchers and "virtual vouchers" for tax-funded home-schooling.
The Schedule: A public hearing on S.B. 422 was held April 4 before the Senate Education Committee, and the bill was left pending. A public hearing on H.B. 2576 before the House Committee in Public Education is scheduled for April 19.
So, that's what's happening--the good, the bad, and the ugly. If you have not yet written or called your state representative, do it now! The address for state representatives is P.O. Box 2910, Austin, TX 78768-2910. It's also very important to be sending letters or calling state senators, because the Texas Education Agency Sunset bill may be passed out of the Senate Education Committee soon. The message to senators is: Keep private school vouchers off the TEA Sunset bill! The address for senators is: Texas Senate, P.O. Box 12068-Capitol Station, Austin 78711. You may find names and phone numbers for your legislators by going to this web site and entering your home address: http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/fyi/fyi.htm
Coalition for Public Schools, 1005 Congress Avenue, Suite 550, Austin, Texas 78701-2491, (512) 474-9765, Cell: (512) 470-1215; Fax: (512) 474-2507, Carolyn Boyle, Coordinator
email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.coalition4publicschools.org
The Coalition for Public Schools is comprised of 40 education, child advocacy, community, and religious organizations representing more than 3,000,000 members in Texas. Founded in 1995, CPS opposes expenditure of public funds to support private and religious schools through mechanisms such as tuition vouchers, franchise tax credits, and property tax credits. The Coalition believes public tax dollars should be spent only to improve neighborhood public schools, which serve more than 94 percent of all Texas children.