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ESA Bill Heard in Committee

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The Senate committee on education met on Tuesday, March 21st to hear SB 3  by Sen. Larry Taylor. SB 3, known commonly as the Education Savings Account legislation, has drawn much discussion over the past few months from all ranges of the education spectrum – home schoolers, public school officials, and activist groups. Even within usually like-minded circles, there has been a great deal of division and this was certainly present in Tuesday’s public testimony.

The hearing began with invited testimony and was comprised of testimony from activist groups and a few individuals studying education freedom. One witness from the Charles Koch foundation stated, “Public school isn’t going away. . .it’s just time to think about some different approaches.” On the whole, the rest of the invited witnesses had the same message.

As testimony was opened to public testimony, although the varying viewpoints were made clear, not one position consumed the bulk of the testimony. In fact, the proponents and opponents of the legislation were quite equally matched in numbers.

Those in favor of SB 3 looked to other states’ similar programs to project the success of SB3. They specifically asserted that low-income students have seen, in other states, the most benefit from the proposed plan. Other proponents of the legislation included residents of rural communities who supported the legislation because they believed it would give them greater access to educational options that would not normally be found in smaller, rural school districts.

The main support for SB3 in the homeschooling community came from the leadership of the Texas Homeschool Coalition.  The Coalition’s president, Tim Lambert, and Jeremy Newman, Policy Director.

Tim Lambert, along with the Texas Public Policy Foundation President Brooke Rollins, answered Senator Bob Hall’s question directed at them in regards to the loud outcry from those in both the homeschooling and private school community that feel that SB3 will destroy these educational pathways. Senator Hall asked them both why they were not concerned.

Tim Lambert answered as follows:  “What we have said is we are for freedom and for parents to make choices and we’ve looked at this bill and there is nothing in this legislation that is detrimental to homeschooling or parents.  We can’t fight what happens in the next legislative session. We have to focus on the one that is here today. And I would say that there is a Virginia based organization representing homeschoolers that has argued that if you do this, if we allow this, it will result in the regulation of homeschooling, but there is no state in the nation including those who have done school choice or ESAs that have increased the regulations on homeschooling.  So again we’re for freedom and we will continue and fight that next battle when it happen.”

Ms. Rollins’ response was as follows:  “Senator Hall, thank you for your question and I couldn’t agree more with my friend Tim Lambert on this.  I think that this is Texas and I think that we will lead the way.  I think that together, Republicans and Democrats have proven that the Texas model works and that we will insure no matter what this looks like once this passes and we begin to open up these opportunities for these children that the government will never get into the business of homeschooling our children or directing private schools.  We will insure that that is the case and we will fight every day to make it so.”

Several home school students and former home school and private school parents spoke about their experiences over the past thirty years in which they paid property taxes in addition to schooling fees. Those who home school, specifically, denounced the potential of their rights being infringed through the passage of SB3.

Although homeschoolers comprised some of those in favor of SB3, they also comprised a significant portion of those opposed to the legislation. Members of Texans for Homeschool Freedom, a new home school activist organization, expressed opposition to the bill based on the concern that tying home schools to any state money could result, now or in the future, in government intrusion into the homeschooling community. Heard commonly among this group was the phrase, “We just want to be left alone”. Other opponents included public school administrators who view the legislation as a diversion of funds from public education. One witness testified, “If we find any new money in the budget for education, it needs to go to fully funding public school, not to other places.”

The testimony concluded at approximately 9:30 on, but members did not vote on the bill. It has been left pending in committee.

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