News88th TXLege

Fourth Special Session Concludes With an Unresolved School Choice Saga

December 5, 2023
TFR Staff
88th Legislative Session, Dade Phelan, Dan Patrick, Greg Abbott, School Choice

The Texas Legislature wrapped up the fourth special legislative session on Tuesday and one of the most contentious issues remained unresolved: school choice.

Despite Governor Greg Abbott’s push, the proposal to allow for Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) ultimately failed to pass out of the Texas House of Representatives.

Legislative Impasse

This legislative impasse indicates a deep division within the state’s political landscape. The effort to pass the ESA bill faced stiff opposition, not just from Democrats but also from a coalition of rural Republicans. This resistance persisted despite Abbott’s claim of having struck a deal with House Speaker Dade Phelan’s negotiating team beforehand. While the legislation was being considered, the coalition above was able to successfully strip ESAs out with the adoption of an amendment authored by outgoing Republican State Rep. John Raney (Bryan), rendering the legislation ultimately untenable to the bill’s author, State Rep. Brad Buckley (R-Salado) who sent the bill back to the committee where it was never considered again.

The Republican lawmakers who voted for the amendment, stripping ESAs out of the legislation were: State Reps. Steve Allison (San Antonio), Ernest Bailes (Shepherd), Keith Bell (Forney), DeWayne Burns (Cleburne), Travis Clardy (Nacogdoches), Drew Darby (San Angelo), Jay Dean (Longview), Charlie Geren (Fort Worth), Justin Holland (Heath), Kyle Kacal (College Station), Ken King (Canadian), John Kuempel (Seguin), Stan Lambert (Abilene), Andrew Murr (Junction), Four Price (Amarillo), John Raney (Bryan), Glenn Rogers (Graford), Hugh Shine (Temple), Reggie Smith (Van Alstyne), Ed Thompson (Pearland), and Gary VanDeaver (New Boston).

The Texas Senate, showing general alignment with Abbott’s priorities, quickly passed its version of an ESA bill only a few days into the special session, having passed similar legislation several times in previous sessions. However, the House’s inaction became a critical roadblock. The House neither held a hearing nor advanced any ESA bill passed by the Senate to the floor for a vote. This inaction led to a public spat between Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (R) and House Speaker Dade Phelan (R), with Patrick accusing Phelan of capitulating to anti-school choice factions to maintain his speakership.

The session’s closure without addressing these issues reflects a deeper discord and a lack of consensus on pivotal policies within the Texas Legislature. Even as the Senate proposed a new bill on school safety – an area on the governor’s agenda – it faced criticism from the House for its perceived inadequacies. The House passed a more comprehensive school safety bill, which stagnated in a Senate committee.

As the session concluded, the failure to pass school choice legislation highlights the complex dynamics of Texas politics, where even a majority party can face internal divisions that impede its legislative agenda. The fallout of this session might also influence future legislative sessions, including the potential for yet another special legislative session which Gov. Abbott has previously expressed interest in calling.

The Bully Pulpit

In the wake of ESA legislation failing to pass out of the Texas House, Gov. Abbott issued endorsements for the reelection of all of the Texas House Republican lawmakers who voted in favor of the school choice legislation as it was being considered in the Texas House. He has also begun issuing endorsements to challengers of those Republican House lawmakers who voted against the proposal. To date, Gov. Abbott has issued the following endorsements to challengers of those incumbents:

  • House District 12: Trey Wharton (R)
    • Incumbent: State Rep. Kyle Kacal (R-College Station)
      • Kacal announced he would not be seeking reelection in late November after voting against ESAs as they were being considered by the Texas House. He had previously announced his reelection effort in September.
  • House District 14: Paul Dyson (R)
    • Incumbent: State Rep. John Raney (R-Bryan)
    • In August, Raney announced he would not be seeking reelection. Raney was the author of the successful amendment that stripped ESAs out of the bill mentioned above. Raney was also the recipient of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility’s inaugural Forgettable Award as a part of the 2023 Fiscal Responsibility Index.
  • House District 55: Hillary Hickland (R)
  • House District 60: Mike Olcott (R)
    • Incumbent: State Rep. Glenn Rogers (R-Graford)
      • Gov. Abbott endorsed Rogers in the previous election cycle.
  • House District 121: Marc LaHood (R)

It is expected that Gov. Abbott will continue to endorse challengers to House Republican lawmakers who voted against ESA efforts. What remains unclear is whether he will get involved in the upcoming primary election by also providing resources to those challengers he endorses against those incumbents.

Texans for Fiscal Responsibility relies on the support of private donors across the Lone Star State in order to promote fiscal responsibility and pro-taxpayer government in Texas. Please consider supporting our efforts! Thank you!

Get The Fiscal Note, our free weekly roll-up on all the current events that could impact your wallet. Subscribe today!