The fourth special session of the 88th Legislature concluded on Tuesday without passing Governor Greg Abbott's key legislative priority for the year - school choice. The House decision to remove education savings accounts (ESAs) from a major school finance bill in mid-November marked the third instance this year that school choice legislation faced resistance. The House voted 84-63 to exclude school choice provisions, prompting the bill's return to committee, where it subsequently died.
Governor Abbott, steadfast in his commitment to school choice, stated in a post-adjournment release that the fight for school choice for all Texas families will persist. While the possibility of a fifth special session remains uncertain, the governor has endorsed primary challenges for House members involved in removing ESAs. The primary elections are scheduled for early March 2024.
The Senate had previously passed legislation, SB 2 by Senator Brandon Creighton, proposing $500 million for 62,500 savings accounts valued at $8,000 each. Approved parents could use the funds for non-public education services such as private school tuition, fees, or tutoring. The bill also allocated an additional $5.2 billion for school funding and teacher pay increases.
In contrast, the session saw a failure to reach an agreement on school safety funding. Disagreements between the chambers centered on funding mechanisms for increased campus security measures mandated by previous legislation. The Senate proposed an $800 million allocation, split between a $400 million grant program and $400 million for direct funds to districts. The House suggested using up to $1.1 billion from the rainy day fund for a dedicated school safety spending fund. Senator Joan Huffman argued that the Senate's proposal would expedite funding distribution, whereas the House proposal required a public vote to become law.
Governor Abbott did secure victories on his border security agenda. The Legislature approved increased funding and a new law allowing state peace officers to arrest migrants entering the country illegally. A compromise was reached on what to do with arrested individuals, reviving a proposal that had failed in the previous session. Two bills, including one allocating $1.5 billion for permanent border walls, now await the governor's signature.