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Eyes on Spiller in voucher vote

Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro, saw both his immigration bill and legislation to establish education savings [ESA] accounts stall as the third special session wound to a close in Austin on Tuesday but expected a quick return to debating both issues in a fourth special session, he said in an interview on Nov. 6.

Rep. Spiller, who represents Olney, said House members are putting together school funding legislation for a new special session that would include teacher pay increases, a hike in the basic student allotment, and funding for new security mandates along with the ESA proposal. “All those things are in play,” he said.

Texas House Republicans from rural districts helped Democrats block the ESA plan favored by Gov. Greg Abbott and financially backed by West Texas oil billionaires Farris and Dan Wilks of Cisco, and Tim Dunn of Midland. The three men and their wives have collectively donated over $29 million over the last decade to politicians and political action committees to support the ESA plan, according to the Texas Ethics Commission.

ESAs are another name for school vouchers, which allow parents to use public funds for homeschooling or private school tuition.

Administrators and teachers at the Olney Independent School District have voiced strong disapproval of the plan, saying it will strip already underfunded programs for the benefit of private schools, which would have no academic or financial accountability under the proposed ESA program.

Sen. Drew Springer, R-Weatherford, voted for a Senate-backed ESA plan and took money from the Wilks’ political action committee despite warnings from OISD Superintendent Dr. Greg Roach and others that the plan would harm the school district, which received national recognition by U.S. News & World Report rankings and the College Board’s Advanced Placement Program in the 2022-23 school year.

Rep. Spiller said he will “vote my district” when it comes to the ESA proposal.

“I represent 59 school districts including five charter schools and I need to make sure they are not hurt or harmed in any way,” he said.

He noted that House members from rural districts “are very concerned” about the proposal but said he doubts that Gov. Abbott would exempt low-population counties from the program.

“First and foremost, I support public education but I also support parents having the ability to make the best decisions for their kids … I believe there has to be a greater transparency for lesson plans … and parents need to be involved with the curriculum,” he said. “As a legislator, I have a constitutional duty to adequately fund public education. I’m not concerned with the costs of what they’re trying to do with ESAs, I’m concerned about the potential loss of funds to my rural school district.”

Rep. Spiller noted that Texas “is 43rd in the nation in funding public education … if we are talking about taking money away from that to give to folks for ESAs, yes, I’m concerned if there is no accountability.”