Texas Gov. Abbott Says Special Session Will Begin Oct. 9, Likely On School Vouchers

The governor has threatened to call for more special sessions if lawmakers fail to pass a 'school choice' proposal.

This is a photo of Gov. Greg Abbott speaking about the recent 88th Legislative Session to an audience at the Texas Public Policy Foundation offices in Austin.
Gov. Greg Abbott speaks about the recent 88th Legislative Session to an audience at the Texas Public Policy Foundation offices in Austin, on June 2, 2023. Abbott ended the event by promising to call a special session for school choice, after the current special session for property tax resolves. (Evan L’Roy/The Texas Tribune)

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Gov. Greg Abbott has notified the Texas Legislature that a third special session will begin on Oct. 9.

A Sept. 26 letter signed by Abbott and addressed to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan, did not indicate the focus of this special session. But the governor has said repeatedly the next special session would focus on public education, including the issues of school vouchers and public school funding.

Abbott’s decision comes nearly four months after lawmakers failed this year to either allocate new money to help school districts make ends meet amid rampant inflation and a volatile economy, or reach an agreement on “school choice,” a moniker for proposals that would allow parents to use taxpayer dollars to pay for their children’s private schooling. School choice has been one of Abbott’s top legislative priorities this year.

Lawmakers are to return to Austin on Oct. 9 at 1 p.m. This year’s regular legislative session ended in a stalemate between the House and Senate over education savings accounts, a voucher-like program that would allow parents access to a state-managed account to pay for private school tuition and other educational expenses.

The Senate tried different ways to pass an education savings account program — even tacking it on to the only school finance bill the House advanced during the session — but Democrats and rural Republicans blocked it from moving forward in the lower chamber.

In the end, school districts have paid the price. Many school officials have had to adopt deficit budgets, meaning their expenditures outweigh their revenues. Some school districts have dipped into their savings to offer teachers minimal raises, balance their budgets or simply to keep the lights on. Others are considering closing campuses all together to save money.

The relationship between the House and Senate was also further strained after the Senate acquitted Attorney General Ken Paxton on impeachment charges brought on by the House, which could make it even more difficult for the chambers to reach an agreement on school vouchers. But Abbott recently said that if lawmakers fail to pass a school choice proposal, he won’t hesitate to bring lawmakers back. And he promised political consequences for those who get in the way.

“If we do not win in that first special session, we will have another special special session and we’ll come back again,” Abbott said last week in a tele-town hall about the issue. “And then if we don’t win that time, I think it’s time to send this to the voters themselves.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/09/29/greg-abbott-texas-leglislature-school-vouchers/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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