BIG SPRING, Texas (KMID/KPEJ) – Proposed legislation for ESA’s, or education savings accounts, has been a hot topic in Texas. The school voucher program, or school choice as it is also called has now passed the Senate, but may have a tough road ahead in the House of Representatives.

Senate Bill 1 would create education savings accounts, or vouchers— that would allow families to access taxpayer money to pay for private schools and other educational expenses. The exact per-student dollar amount is still being discussed.

“SB One would set up aside about $500 million for education savings accounts. That translates to about 50 to 60,000 students in Texas at max enrollment, which is still only about 1% of the total population of Texas families,” said Nathan Cunneen, with the American Federation for Children.

Those against it say that departing students results in less money for public schools since state funding is based on student attendance.

“Parents in Texas have always had school choice. They’ve had it since the mid-90s.
I do work in a public school setting. That is, you know, we get money from the state from taxpayers to help educate our kids. And we feel like any deduction of that money that comes out of that. We don’t think that’s fair, and we think it will eventually we know it will eventually hurt us,” said Big Spring ISD Superintendent, Jay McWilliams.

Many local school districts believe the money being considered for education savings accounts should be sent to public schools, as many have struggled financially since the pandemic— in addition to inflationary costs.

Superintendent McWilliams along with many other school leaders we spoke with, believe private schools and even a homeschooling setting—are not held to the same standard, and won’t be moving forward.

“Currently, private schools, and homeschooling, do not follow the same rules that we are held to in the state of Texas, by the state legislature, and by the Texas Education Agency. We have accountability standards, the STAAR test. We have financial transparency in our school district, what does that mean? That means that every cent that we spend, which is taxpayer money that comes into Big Spring ISD, is accounted for, and anybody can check on that. And everybody is free to see that at every board meeting,” said Superintendent McWilliams.

Nathan Cunneen with the American Federation for Children, the largest school choice advocacy organization in the U.S., is a strong advocate for the voucher program because of his personal experience using these types of funds.

“When I was a kid I used to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which is the school choice program there in Florida. To help pay for my education, which completely changed the trajectory of my life. I became the first in my family to graduate from college, and I credit that completely to school choice,” said Cunneen.

Everyone has their own opinion regarding this legislation– but now the next step lies in the houses’s hands.

“If they decide one day, I want my kid to go to a charter private school, if they want to homeschool, and I think they could do it better. Or they think that would fit them best, great. All power to you. But again, if there’s a cost involved, and that’s on them for making that choice,” said Superintendent McWilliams.

“These education savings accounts couldn’t be used by families to pay for tuition at a nonpublic school. But they could also be used for tutoring, they could be used to help pay for transportation. They could be used for curriculum or other services to help the student really achieve the education that is best for their individual learning style,” said Cunneen.

Governor Abbott is still waiting for a move in the House of Representatives to move forward with this top priority of his.

He has now also expanded the current third special session agenda to include ESA’s and raised the amount to $10,400 per student. The details are still being talked over.