Wednesday, June 08, 2005

How the Voucher Lobby Was Foiled

It's been fun going over the news regarding the momentous voucher debate on the House floor. The following is from the Texas Federation of Teachers LEGISLATIVE HOTLINE. What's really impressive in reflecting on this is just how much was invested in this (esp. highly paid lobbyists) by some really powerful people combined with top leadership in the legislature poised to make this legislation happen.

Mind you, since 1995, the voucher lobby has maintained its presence in the legislature through lucrative campaign contributions to key Texas leadership that includes Governor Rick Perry, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and other supporters. See, for instance, Texas Freedom Network, 2005. Though only a handful of individuals, the pro-voucher lobby includes such notables as Richard DeVos, the billionaire founder of Amway, John Walton of the Wal-Mart family, and Richard Sharp of CarMax.

In any case, thought that I'd share this for those of you who are interested.

– Angela

P.S. I must confess that State Rep. Aaron Peña's voucher battle story (told in real time) and titled, Revenge of the Sith," is the best, most amusing account yet.

TUESDAY, MAY 24, 2005

(copyright 2005 Texas Federation of Teachers)

How the Voucher Lobby Was Foiled
Turning Point in Voucher Debate:
Last night’s voucher debate in the Texas House had many heroes. Bob Griggs, Republican of Fort Worth, led off with a tough critique of the inadequate academic and financial accountability in the voucher proposal. Alma Allen, Democrat of Houston, and Pat Haggerty, Republican of El Paso, fired hard questions at bill author Kent Grusendorf, Republican of Arlington. Scott Hochberg, Democrat of Houston, proposed to strike all voucher language from the bill and almost pulled it off, but his amendment failed by one vote, 72 to 71. Carter Casteel, Republican of New Braunfels and a former teacher, followed with an impassioned response to the voucher advocates’ attack on teachers and public schools. Casteel very nearly knocked out the voucher language then and there with another amendment, but her bid failed on a 72-to-72 tie vote.

Then the debate took a crucial turn, focusing on the sheer hypocrisy of the voucher proposal. Members including Rafael Anchia, Democrat of Dallas, pointed out that the bill’s authors had carefully drafted their scheme to exclude their own home districts, such as Arlington ISD, Grusendorf’s home turf, and Irving ISD, home of Republican Rep. Linda Harper-Brown.

An amendment by Charlie Geren, Republican of Fort Worth, attacked that hypocrisy head on, putting Arlington ISD and Irving ISD under the voucher “pilot program” in place of Fort Worth ISD and Dallas ISD. Grusendorf tried to block this Geren amendment but lost decisively, by a vote of 67 to 76, causing a sudden case of indigestion for voucher backers such as Harper-Brown.

The last straw was a second Geren amendment transforming the whole plan from a private-school voucher program into a public-school choice plan. Grusendorf said the amendment would “gut” his bill. He was right, and it did. Two suburban Republicans from the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex–Toby Goodman of Arlington and Ray Allen of Grand Prairie–deserted the voucher camp and helped pass this amendment, 74 to 72. A couple of parliamentary points of order by Jim Dunnam, Democrat of Waco, then were surprisingly sustained by Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick, Republican of Midland. With that tacit admission of defeat from the speaker, the voucher bill was dead.

A future hotline will provide the official tally of the votes that defeated vouchers yesterday in the Texas House. As we savor the victory, though, we remain on high alert for attempts to insert voucher language into other bills.

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