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SB 3 would create two separate programs: education savings accounts and tax credit scholarships. Both programs could be used by the most economically or medically disadvantaged in order to receive the full amount of subsidies for education. Students who are eligible are those who are below the age of five as of August 31st or if they attended public school in the last school year. Those students who were home schooled, re-enroll into a public school, or attended private school in the last school year are not eligible under this program. The state would also be restricted from regulating education providers based on the content of their services.
Funds from the savings accounts may be used not only for private school tuition but for home schooled children to access books, technology, and curricula. Funds could also be used for special needs education and tutoring. The amount that will be available from the savings account will be based on the income of the child's family. If the family has an income that is 200 percent above the necessary income to receive free and reduced lunch, that child will be allotted 60 percent of the state average education cost per student.
This bill would also include students in the weighted average daily attendance of the local public school for the first year they participate in this program.
It would also give TEA access to the criminal records of any individual providing private tutoring if they intend to participate in the program and seek reimbursement.
The second half of SB 3 would create a tax credit scholarship program by enabling low income students, students with military parents, and students with disabilities to be eligible for a scholarship to attend the school of their choice. SB 3 would add a chapter to the Insurance Code titled "Credit Against Premium Taxes for Contributions to Certain Educational Assistance Organizations." The Comptroller will contract with Educational organizations to disperse scholarship funds for educational purposes. Nonpublic schools would be required to meet various criteria in order for students to receive scholarships to pay for educational expenses at the school.
An organization would be able to apply for certification as an educational assistance organization by meeting criteria of: being a 501(c)(3) organization, being in good standing with the state, being located in the state, allocating at least 90 percent of revenue from contributions designated for educational assistance to scholarships and educational assistance, awarding scholarships and assistance to eligible students who demonstrate need, providing donors with receipts for contributions with specific information demonstrating experience, technical expertise in processing scholarship applications and distributing scholarships, agreeing to be independently audited on an annual basis, and file the audit with comptroller.
This legislation represents a modest step in the right direction toward implementing school choice in Texas. This legislation would pin education dollars to families, enhancing the individual liberty of families to pursue the type of education that they need rather than being assigned to a particular school based on zip code. This bill would also allow families to roll over their savings accounts year to year, as long as they continue to be eligible for the program, creating incentive to be frugal with their savings accounts. We also believe putting financial control in the hands of parents will introduce more free market principles within education. Parents will spend their money with the groups that they get the greatest education for the best price with.
This legislation could be improved in several ways including:
Overall we support this bill as a move in the right direction toward education freedom in Texas. We also note that the bill includes language specifically designed to safeguard private schools and home schools from being subject to new intrusive state regulations. Quoting from SB 3: "A private school voluntarily selected by a parent for the parent’s child to attend or a parent who homeschools the parent’s child, with or without governmental assistance, may not be required to comply with any state law or rule governing the applicable educational program that was not in effect on January 1, 2017."