AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Gov. Greg Abbott released his formal proclamation of a special session on Thursday, directing lawmakers to reconvene on Oct. 9 to consider legislation relating to education savings accounts, border security, and prohibiting private employers from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for employees.
Topping the list of demands is Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature educational priority — ‘education savings accounts,’ which would use state money to subsidize tuition for families who want to send their children to private school. The issue has long been a top promise of the governor and Lt. Gov. Patrick, but has failed to gain support in the Texas House.
“Together, we will chart a brighter future for all Texas children by empowering parents to choose the best education option for their child,” Gov. Abbott said.
In the regular legislative session, the Texas Senate passed a bill that would give eligible families $8,000 to spend on alternate educational expenses such as private school tuition or homeschooling materials. That plan would cost nearly $5 billion over five years, and encountered bipartisan opposition in the House.
Democrats stand uniformly against the idea, citing concerns the program would take money from public education.
I reject voucher gimmicks that would take any more money out of our neighborhood schools where the vast majority of Texas students are educated. It’s time for Governor Abbott to do his job and fully fund the public education of 5.4 million Texas school children,” State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, said in a statement released by the House Democratic Caucus.
Rural Republicans also oppose such a voucher program, worried the plan will send state money to private schools far from their districts.
Gov. Abbott has pledged to pass his ‘school choice’ plan at all costs, threatening to call a fourth special session or target opposing Republicans in primary elections if they can’t deliver a bill.
Notably, the governor’s proclamation does not mention teacher pay or increases to public education funding. During the regular session, despite anticipated increases to both teacher compensation and base school funding, neither passed.
“The Texas House came together across party lines to pass a bill that would increase teacher pay,” State Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, told Nexstar. “The Texas Senate held that bill hostage to try to pass their voucher scam that would send our tax dollars to unaccountable private schools. I’m hopeful that that bipartisan coalition in the Texas House will stand strong for our public schools.”
Lt. Gov. Patrick has previously told Nexstar that teacher pay increases would pass in tandem with an education savings account bill.
“We’re going to get it done in this special session,” Patrick said on Sep. 20. “This summer, I added the teacher pay to the property tax bill and the House didn’t like that… we’re going to do our job and we’ll get a teacher pay raise.”
Gov. Abbott’s proclamation notably makes specific reference to “Colony Ridge,” a subdivision north of Houston that has become a target of conservative figures who claim it is harboring undocumented immigrants.
The governor calls for “legislation concerning public safety, security, environmental quality, and property ownership in areas like the Colony Ridge Development in Liberty County, Texas.”
“With thousands of illegal aliens crossing into the United States daily, they have to be going somewhere. It appears Colony Ridge is offering them a home. Frankly, it felt a little predatory,” Texas Scorecard’s Michael Quinn Sullivan said on social media Wednesday.
Conservatives cite observations of underdeveloped land and the use of ITIN loans, which provide loans to people without sufficient identification, as evidence that the area is a magnet for undocumented people.
There is not yet evidence to confirm the concerns that Colony Ridge protects or preys on undocumented residents. Both Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Patrick have stopped short of making such claims, but Gov. Abbott promised that legislative hearings will look into the concerns.
Gov. Abbott also included calls to authorize Texas law enforcement to remove illegal immigrants, to increase criminal penalties for operating a “stash house,” and to dedicate more funding for border barrier infrastructure.
The governor called on legislators to pass a bill prohibiting private employers from requiring employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
The measure has long been a priority for conservatives, who believe measures in the regular session did not go far enough.
“The Texas House passed a budget that included a rider that made it illegal,” State Rep Brian Harrison, R-Midlothian, told Nexstar on Wednesday. “We don’t have medical freedom. Texas should be leading the nation in the defense of medical freedom. But the Texas COVID Vaccine Freedom Act, which would have finally put an end to these tyrannical COVID vaccine mandates, was passed by the Senate. Dade Phelan and his leadership team killed that on the floor.”
The third special session begins on Monday at 1 p.m.