No School Voucher Fight in House… Yet

Rep. Abel Herrero defends his anti-voucher amendment in the Texas House in 2013.
Patrick Michels
Rep. Abel Herrero defends his anti-voucher amendment in the Texas House in 2013.

A potentially contentious vote on a measure that would have banned spending public money on school vouchers was avoided after its author withdrew the amendment.

Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) said he pulled the amendment because it wasn’t necessary.

“Given the commitment of the House to supporting public education, I felt this amendment was duplicative,” Herrero said. It also would have forced some lawmakers to take a difficult vote, caught between turning their backs on their district’s public schools and potentially earning the ire of conservative interest groups.

A coalition of Democrats and rural Republican lawmakers has coalesced during the past two decades to defeat voucher legislation. Herrero said the anti-voucher coalition is still strong.

“The coalition is solid,” Herrero said, “Vouchers for all intents and purposes are dead in the House.”

The coalition may be strong, but Texas Republican Party Chairman Tom Mechler is working to weaken it. Mechler sent a letter to GOP legislators Tuesday pushing them to vote against Herrero’s amendment.

Two years ago Herrero offered a near-identical amendment that passed overwhelmingly.

While representatives have defeated vouchers in the past, this session Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has made them a top legislative priority and a voucher bill may pass the Senate, setting up a future showdown in the House.

The Senate’s voucher proposal, which will likely be proposed as Senate Bill 4, could include a combination of Sen. Donna Campbell’s (R-New Braunfels) proposal to give parents $5,000 to spend on private school tuition, and Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s (R-Houston) bill allowing companies to divert their tax payments to private school tuition funds. Both were heard during a lively committee hearing last Thursday.

Tonight’s action in the House could set up the lower chamber for a much longer debate later this session on the voucher proposal the Senate ultimately passes.

John Savage is a writer based in Austin.

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Published at 12:47 am CST