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Democratic lawmakers, Dallas ISD superintendent criticize Governor Abbott's school choice proposal

Lawmakers, Dallas ISD superintendent respond to Abbott's school choice proposal
Lawmakers, Dallas ISD superintendent respond to Abbott's school choice proposal 03:10

AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM) – At the Texas Capitol Friday, Democratic state lawmakers gave Governor Greg Abbott's school choice proposal an "F." 

State Representative Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin and member of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus said at a news conference, "We unequivocally stand against any scheme to defund our public schools."

During his State of the State address Thursday night, the Governor said he wants to provide taxpayer-funded Education Savings Accounts, which would allow students to go to private school.

It's already available for special needs students. 

Abbott said, "We want to expand that program to provide every parent with the ability to choose the best education option for their child."

Past school choice plans have failed because rural lawmakers, including Republicans in the House, believed it would hurt school districts.

The Governor said that's not the case. "All public schools will be fully funded for every student."

But on Friday, Dallas ISD Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde said their research shows such programs reduce funding for public schools. "Dollars are being siphoned. We've never seen a design of the ones that I researched where that has been to me, that my colleagues have researched where that has been true. So, we would be the first to have that be accurate."     

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has listed school choice as a top priority bill in the Senate, but actual legislation hasn't been filed yet.

No word yet if school choice will be a top priority in the House.

House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont told CBS 11 this week it's too early in the session for him to weigh-in. "I don't know where we're going to end up, I really don't. The Texas House is different because you have so many rural members. I represent an area that's considered rural Texas and they're very concerned with how school choice impacts their home districts. I need to see some very specific legislation and I haven't seen it yet." 

But supporters of school choice say they're optimistic now that the Governor is behind it.

There's another disagreement over school funding.

In his speech, the Governor thanked lawmakers for making per-student an all-time high. "We've provided more funding for public education and more funding for teacher pay raises that ever before in the history of our state. And this session, we will add even more."

Elizalde disagreed. "It's shocking that that's actually the statement."

Educators like Elizalde and Democrats want the state to fund school districts based on their enrollment, instead of attendance, where districts now don't get paid when students are out sick.

That would allow Dallas ISD to receive $48 million more in state funding, which Elizalde says would be put to good use. "Increased quality of materials and resources for the students, increased safety through our school district and increased salaries for all our team members."

State Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City and Chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus said, "Texas unfortunately ranks 39th in the nation for per pupil school funding. Amid a historical budget surplus, we have to prioritize public schools."

Debate over funding for public schools and education savings accounts will now be ramping up in the legislature.

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