Austin ISD Awaits Fate of Senate Bills SB 1 and SB 2 in Special Legislative Session

Austin ISD Awaits Fate of Senate Bills SB 1 and SB 2 in Special Legislative Session

As the second week of the special legislative session commenced, Austin Independent School District (AISD) has set its sights on two critical bills recently passed by the Senate: SB 1 and SB 2. These bills carry significant implications for education in Texas.

SB 1: School Vouchers for Texas Families

SB 1, often referred to as the “school voucher bill,” has generated considerable attention. This legislation proposes to allocate tax dollars to assist Texas families in funding private school education. Through the creation of a $500 million Education Savings Account (ESA) voucher program, eligible families would be granted an $8,000 voucher. This voucher could be employed for various educational purposes, including private school tuition, tutoring, instructional materials, therapy, or transportation to and from school.

In a bid to mitigate the impact on public school districts, SB 1 offers compensation to districts with 5,000 or fewer students. These districts would receive $10,000 per net student lost to the ESA program for up to three years. This initiative, if passed, has already garnered support from Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who has expressed his willingness to address school funding, but only if SB 1 becomes law.

SB 2: Injecting $5.2 Billion into School Districts

Shortly after SB 1’s approval, the Senate passed SB 2, offering a potential incentive for the House to accept the voucher bill. SB 2 aims to allocate $5.2 billion to Texas school districts. Some of the key highlights of this legislation include:

  • Increasing the base amount of money allocated per student by 1.2%, raising it from $6,160 to $6,235.
  • Introducing a one-time retention bonus of $10,000 for teachers in districts with fewer than 5,000 students and $10,000 for those teaching in districts with more than 5,000 students.
  • Raising the per-student allotment from $10 to $20 and the campus allotment from $15,000 per campus to $30,000 per campus.

Challenges and the Road Ahead

Despite the positive aspects of SB 2, it is important to note that Texas legislators would need to increase school funding by a staggering $14 billion just to return to pre-pandemic funding levels, adjusted for inflation.

One of the most critical questions at this juncture is whether the Texas House will embrace the voucher system or reject it in favor of SB 2. Edna Butts, Austin ISD’s Director of Intergovernmental Relations and Policy Oversight, sheds light on the political landscape surrounding SB 1. She explains, “For years, Democrats and a few Republicans, mainly from rural areas, have opposed vouchers. But in the past year, there has been a big push from billionaires who support vouchers, pouring millions into Texas political action committees (PACs) and advertising in support of vouchers.”

The future of these bills now rests in the hands of the Texas House. While it is expected that the House will introduce its own versions of these bills, as of noon on October 17, no House bills pertaining to these topics have been filed.