AUSTIN, Texas — As the 88th Texas Legislature sprints towards the finish line, lawmakers continue to debate some major legislation that could impact daily life for Texans.
Chief among of those issues for the Texas GOP? School choice and education savings accounts, or ESAs.
SB 8 would allow parents to use public money, ESAs, to move their kids into a private school of their choice, even religious ones.
But after the Texas Senate passed the bill and sent it to the House, the lower chamber made several changes to the legislation, including making far fewer students eligible for ESAs.
It’s all part of an effort to bring Democrats and rural Republicans on board, a coalition that has successfully defeated similar legislation in years past because they argue it weakens the state’s public school system because it steals funding from them.
Gov. Greg Abbott has threatened to veto the House version of the bill.
The Republican chair of the House Education Committee responded by saying he won’t even bring up the legislation for a vote before it goes to the House floor.
State Rep. Brian Harrison says, while school choice might be dead for the regular session, that doesn’t mean it’s dead for the state of Texas this year.
The Waxahachie Republican supports the Governor’s threat to pull lawmakers back to Austin for a special session if the Senate version isn’t passed.
“We need to get this right. I don’t care how long it takes or how many special sessions it takes. We must empower every Texas family with education freedom this year,” Rep. Harrison told us on Inside Texas Politics.
And if there is a special session, Rep. Harrison says he’d add property tax relief to the agenda if no plan is passed in the final days of the regular session. Just like with school choice, the House and Senate are fighting over competing versions.
The initial Senate plan would boost the homestead exemption from $40,000 to $70,000. And they added another $20,000 for seniors. It would also send nearly $5.5 billion to school districts.
The House plan, a counterproposal in essence, would increase the homestead exemption from $40,000 to $100,000, with an additional $10,000 for seniors, and send an additional $12 Billion to school districts.
But it would also lower the state’s appraisal cap from 10% to 5%. That limits the increase on a home’s taxable value.
And it is a major sticking point.
Critics, including inside the Senate, argue tightening the cap could lead to more harm than good, drive up housing costs and benefit wealthier households more.
Harrison says a deal must be worked out for Texas homeowners, either in the final days of the regular session, or in a special session.
“It’s probably one of the biggest issues that matters to my voters. Of course I would like to see us ultimately pass a package that puts us on a path to eliminating property taxes. I don’t think either plan that’s being proposed right now goes as far as I would like it to get to,” said the Republican.
The legislative session ends May 29.