The Texas Freedom Network will be focused Tuesday on two bills being heard by the Senate Education Committee: one that would create an expensive private school voucher program and another that could effectively end sex education in much of the state.
Senate Bill 115 by state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, would create a voucher program that pays private school tuition for students with disabilities. That scheme could drain millions of dollars from public schools that educate the vast majority of students with disabilities. Moreover, private schools aren’t required to provide legal procedures mandated by federal and state laws that protect the rights and interests of students with disabilities. SB 115 does include some of those protections, but private schools typically oppose any state regulation. In fact, state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, has filed a proposed constitutional amendment (HJR 45) barring any state or local regulation of private and religious schools — including schools that take tax-funded vouchers. The chances that private schools that accept vouchers (for students disabilities or anyone else) would really be accountable to taxpayers? Zero.
The Senate Education Committee will also hear testimony on Senate Bill 521 by state Sen. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney. SB 521 would bar public schools from using for sex education classes any outside (non-district employee) individual or entity that is affiliated with an abortion provider. It also would require school districts to obtain prior written approval from parents before permitting a student to participate in a sex education class taught by an outside provider. Such a requirement would be a bureaucratic nightmare for school districts.
SB 521 is a completely unnecessary expansion of state authority over local school districts. First, the only thing sex education has to do with abortion is making it less likely a teen will get pregnant and seek one. Second, state law already protects parental rights by requiring school districts to notify parents in writing about the content of sex education classes, their right to review curriculum materials, their right to participate in School Health Advisory Councils that advise the district on sex education policies, and their right to keep their children out of any part of a sex education class.
SB 521’s new mandates would interfere with the authority of local school districts to decide how and what to teach students about sex education. Even more worrisome, however, is that it creates an enormous bureaucratic burden on school districts that use outside providers for sex education. In fact, about half of the state’s school districts use providers or instructional materials from outside providers, and other teachers often use materials from outside sources that they find on their own. A Texas Freedom Network fact sheet explains how these new state mandates could effectively end sex education in many public schools across Texas — a state with one of the highest teen birth rates in the nation.
These are only the first efforts by far-right lawmakers during the current legislative session to pass a private school voucher scheme and torpedo effective sex education in Texas. TFN will speak out forcefully against both bills.