Texas Legislature finishes fourth special session without school vouchers, public education funds and more

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — With the final gavel of the year in the Capitol chambers, special session four came to close Tuesday without passing Gov. Greg Abbott’s priorities regarding school safety, teacher pay, education savings accounts, and an election bill.

This stagnation was mostly attributable to the proposal to subsidize private schools through education savings accounts, a battle that stretched from the beginning of the regular special session into the third and fourth special sessions.

After the House adjourned sine die without taking action on two Senate bills Tuesday, senators were left with no choice but to do the same a day before the 30-day special session officially expired.

Once again, lawmakers were unable to reach a deal on so-called school choice after the proposal failed in the House. A coalition of 21 House Republicans banded together with Democrats to defeat the measure, which effectively killed a larger education package– which included $800 million for school safety, an increase in the basic allotment for public schools and teacher pay raises.

The policy standoff was made worse by the tumultuous relationship between House Speaker Dade Phelan and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. On Tuesday, the House took no action and adjourned sine die following the Senate’s passing of various bills last week.

In a 45-minute press conference with reporters, Patrick slammed Phelan — saying the legislative process is “broken” due to what he calls failed leadership by the speaker.

“I take no pleasure in saying what I’m about to say, but we are at a point where the legislative process is totally broken because of lack of leadership and truthfulness from the Speaker of the House,” Patrick told reporters.

The lieutenant governor lamented about the fourth special session’s newest casualties, including Senate Bill 6 — a proposal to change how soon people can challenge election results in court. The failure of that bill could mean the delayed implementation of one Republicans’ biggest legislative wins this session, property tax relief. SB 6 was filed last week in response to lawsuits filed in Travis County contesting the Nov. 7 constitutional amendment election results — in which voters handily approved proposals to reduce property taxes, fund investments in new state parks, and increase pensions for retired teachers.

“We passed that bill Friday. They’ve been at ease since Friday. They could have received our bill any time. [Phelan] chose not to receive it until today,” Patrick said. “

On the contrary, Phelan applauded the efforts Republicans accomplished in a lengthy statement on social media.

“If he remained speaker, then we’re just on a merry go round over and over again. Killing good conservative legislation, misleading his members. Who are I think getting really tired of it,” Patrick said. “If you can’t pass it in six days, then you’ve got the wrong job and he needs to resign.”

Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, said he believes Abbott never intended to try and get meaningful legislation for public schools across the finish line.

“I would have loved for the House to pass some clean school finance bill…and we tried,” he said. “But when the governor of the state puts all his political pressure on lawmakers to not fund public education, this is the result you get.”

Lawmakers didn’t adjourn without any conservative victories. The Legislature approved bills to continue building the border wall and another bill that would make it a state crime to cross the border illegally. Senate Bill 3 would allocate an additional $1.54 billion for border barrier infrastructure and operations while Senate Bill 4 creates a criminal offense for illegal entry into presence.

Abbott’s office did not say whether he would call another special session on Tuesday, but projected confidence for the future of his push for education savings accounts.

“The fight for school choice for all Texas families will continue until it’s won. A majority of Texans across our state and from all walks of life support school choice, and Governor Abbott will not rest until school choice is passed,” Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze told Nexstar. “The Governor will continue to work with Texas legislators and at the ballot box to get school choice for all Texas families.”

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