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Infighting among Texas state leaders threatens school choice, border security legislation
Infighting among Texas state leaders threatens school choice, border security legislation
Infighting among Texas state leaders threatens school choice, border security legislation

Published on: 11/04/2023


AUSTIN, Texas (KEYE) — As a Texas special session focused on school choice and border security comes to a close, infighting among state leaders could spell trouble for legislation on both of those fronts.

The third special session is expected to come to a finish Tuesday, just days after an "agreement" was reached between stakeholders on an Education Savings Account policy, allocating state dollars for private education. Despite Gov. Greg Abbott touting that as enough time to pass the plan on Wednesday, just hours later the Texas House recessed until next week, effectively hindering the legislation's chances at passage.

On Friday, House Education Committee Chair Brad Buckley, R-Killeen, publicly shared the agreed-to plan, a nearly 180-page education omnibus that includes school choice and several public education policies.

"In the likely event that Governor Abbott calls us back into session next week, my intent is to file this bill at the earliest opportunity," Buckley said in a letter attached to the policy. "Now that the expanded call has given the House the tools it needs to take this bill up for debate, we will plan to move forward with its consideration. My reason for disseminating this draft is to give each of you a jumpstart on examining this bill ahead of the next special session."

That policy, as written, would allocate approximately $10,500 for private education students. It would also increase the basic allotment for public school funding to $6,700, offer one-time bonuses and gradual pay increases to public education teachers, increase school safety funding, and would phase out accountability measurements like STAAR testing by 2026.

As mentioned, Buckley specifically said he intended for this policy to be taken up in a future special session. He said that a special session could begin as soon as next week, immediately following the current special session, which Abbott has done in the past when other priorities have failed, such as property tax cuts.

Though no official word has been made on when such a special session would take place, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, stated on social media that he informed Abbott he supported waiting for a special session until Feb. 5, 2024, just a month before primary elections.

Much as he has throughout the year, Patrick has publicly lambasted House Speaker Dade Phelan for the impasse the legislature is in this special session, while Phelan has fired back with the opposite.

"Mr. Speaker, you have become nothing more than hot air," Patrick shared in a lengthy statement on social media. "The Senate has been the leader on border security legislation long before you arrived in the House. I don’t pay attention to you anymore and neither does anyone else. You’ve become the teacher character from the “Peanuts” series. When you talk, all we hear is, 'Wah wah woh wah wah.' You’ve become a Speaker who can impeach someone faster than it takes to smoke a brisket, but you can't pass a big teacher pay raise bill or a school choice bill in 10 months. No one takes you seriously anymore.

Just hours earlier, Patrick had criticized the House's plan for House Bill 4, which would create a state-level criminal penalty for illegal border crossings. Phelan responded, with a rare direct statement to Patrick's post.

"Dan Patrick’s baseless critique of House Bill 4 is a transparent attempt to deflect from his chamber’s own impotent response to the growing crisis at our border — a crisis demanding decisive action, not the ineffective strategies being peddled by the Senate," Phelan said in a written statement. "The Lt. Governor's statement is a desperate bid to salvage what's left of his credibility on border security this special session after the Senate significantly watered-down House Bill 4, the strongest border legislation that has ever been passed out of the House."

The Senate is expected to come back to the Capitol on Sunday, wit the House returning thereafter next week. As for any policies the two may come to an agreement on, that remains to be seen.

As of Friday, only two bills have been sent to the governor: SB 4, which increases the penalties for human smuggling, and SB 7, which bans COVID-19 vaccine mandates for private employers.

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