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Bill of the Week: Beating a Dead Horse

Bill proves school vouchers still have no traction in the House
Brandon Watson, 10:30am, Sat. Apr. 6, 2013
You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. This week, some state Republicans wanted the House to lap up private school vouchers, touted as a panacea by Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and Sen. Dan Patrick. But when it came time to vote, the house must not have been thirsty. Vouchers were shot down in a 103-43 vote.

The bill in question was a budgetary amendment filed by Corpus Christi Democrat Abel Herrero, that prohibits public money from being used for private schools. Although Herrero indicated on the floor that he believes the bill would apply to tax credits as well as vouchers, it is unclear if the bill itself supports his claims. The language seems to open a loophole, as long as the credits are not diverted from the Texas Education Agency.

That loophole, though, must have been cold comfort to school choice cheerleaders who had made vouchers a legislative priority. Adding insult to injury, Herrero introduced the bill with a shrug. His nonchalance could perhaps be attributed to a lack of zeal from Speaker Joe Straus and many rural Republicans. Or perhaps Herrero simply knew that history was on his side. The issue of "school choice" (i.e., public money for private schools) has consistently floundered in the lower chamber for almost a decade.

Still, the weight of history did not stop Tea Party theatrics. As always, several GOP freshmen were eager to "think of the children." Putting on his best Mean Joe Green, Scott Turner tossed his jersey at the poor kids "trapped in schools that are underperforming." Ron Simmons accused Herrero of derailing any debate whatsoever. And Debbie Riddle, who only acts like a freshman, painted an educational landscape straight out of Les Misérable. After letting the contingent have their say, House members were quick to call for a vote – no doubt exhausted by the (at that juncture) eight-hour budgetary marathon.

The passage of the amendment does not bode well for House legislation filed by Turner and Bill Callegari. For now, school voucher advocates will have to pin most of their hopes on Patrick's Senate Bill 23. For the opponents of vouchers, the whole process seems to have become rote. In a written statement, Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller greeted the news with a sigh. "You have to wonder how many times the House has to slam the door before the voucher gang gets the message. Instead of wasting time with press conferences in private schools and hearings on voucher bills that won’t pass the Legislature, lawmakers need to knuckle down and work on fully funding our neighborhood public schools."

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