Border security and school choice special session set to begin Oct 9

Get ready for a major fight at the Texas Capitol.

Gov. Greg Abbott has notified Texas legislators that the next special session, set to focus on education and border security, will begin on October 9.

It has long been known that a special session would be held sometime in October, which Abbott confirmed in a letter to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) setting the start date for next Monday at 1 p.m. 

The exact issues that will be on the call are yet to be announced, though Abbott has said it will include school choice along with border-related items such as examining the Colony Ridge settlement in Liberty County — something that has drawn a lot of attention over the last couple of weeks.

Other expected items on the agenda are a teacher pay increase, which failed during the regular session alongside the governor’s preferred education savings account program, and possibly an increase to the basic student school funding allotment from the state.

Abbott has said that he’s prepared to call multiple special sessions if school choice is not passed by the Legislature — the primary barrier being the Texas House, whose GOP membership is divided on the issue.

To craft the school choice-education funding combo bill, Phelan created the House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment, which released its report in August. The select committee has a different membership from the Public Education Committee, through which the proposals previously failed to pass.

Speaking with Lubbock radio host Chad Hasty on Friday, state Rep. John Smithee (R-Amarillo) — a rural Republican who’s been lukewarm about school choice in the past, but voted in favor of it in both of this year’s test votes — said he believes the chamber is five to 10 votes short on the issue right now.

“I don’t see a whole lot about [the special session] that will be easy,” Smithee said. “The only way that they get there is either make concessions in the legislation itself — things primarily for rural areas — or the threat of Governor Abbott has threatened to campaign against people that don’t vote for it.”

“I think primarily it’s going to be concessions in the legislation itself to where rural lawmakers feel like they can support it and then go home and feel like they’ve been fair to their local school districts and feel like they’re not going to destroy their local schools.”

The original proposal from the Texas Senate added a “hold harmless” provision in which school districts who lost a child to an ESA would be reimbursed, plus some, for the funding that was moving with the student to another entity.

On conservative pundit Dana Loesch’s program, Abbott said of the Colony Ridge settlement, “Serious concerns have been raised about what’s going on in this Colony Ridge area. I deployed the Texas Department of Public Safety to make sure that this is being patrolled.”

“We’re trying to put together as much information as possible so that I can add to the special session any issue that needs to be enforced in terms of a new law in the State of Texas to make sure that we’re not going to have any colonies like this in our state.”

John Harris, president of the Colony Ridge development, responded to the recent attention from state officials, inviting lawmakers to tour the area on October 5 to dispute “[the] ongoing false media narratives and false statements being perpetrated by out-of-state media outlets, politicians, and special interest groups.”

The entity’s developer, William “Trey” Harris, has donated $1.4 million to Abbott’s campaign since 2014 and has also contributed to other Texas Republicans.

Harris told The Vindicator, “I'm a little disappointed in our state government that they are taking action based on lies and gossip.”

Casting a long shadow over this special session is the relationship between Patrick and Phelan, which is in tatters following this year’s property tax standoff and impeachment trial against Attorney General Ken Paxton.

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