Gov. Greg Abbott might have overestimated Texans’ enthusiasm regarding “school choice.” The voucher-like program he is lobbying for has just had a major setback in the Texas House, and during his “parent empowerment” tour he has been getting booed.
Lawmakers, teachers’ unions, advocates, and parents alike are fighting back against vouchers since they are not convinced public schools will remain unharmed if such policies are passed.
On April 6, the House passed a budget amendment against voucher programs. The amendment was supported by Democrats and Republicans, particularly rural lawmakers. The amendment was submitted by State Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Robstown), and included provisions banning state funds for any voucher-like program, including Abbott’s Education Savings Accounts.
While vouchers could still be passed, they won’t have any money provided under this amendment. That’s a problem considering the cost is easily $1 billion and climbing.
This signals a school choice plan will not pass without a fight in the House, even as the Senate approved a proposal backed by Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Senate Bill 8, the school choice bill that has advanced furthest so far, establishes that parents who take their children out of public schools would receive $8,000 to spend on private school tuition or home-schooling materials for each child.
The bill even comes with a little sweetener for rural Republicans, a financial cushion by providing $10,000 for each student who left using an ESA.
While the bill might sound good on paper, nobody is buying it.
Texans are not being swayed by Abbott’s attempts to pass school choice in the state. His multi-city “Parent Empowerment Night” tour – which has solely been focused on private Christian schools – is not getting the traction he has hoped for.
Support against vouchers seems to be gaining more momentum as his tour continues. In his last two stops at McAllen and San Antonio, there have been protestors outside the schools armed with megaphones, chanting:
“Empower public schools!”
“Defend public schools!”
“No school vouchers!”
One of those protesters was McAllen ISD School Board Trustee Place 5 candidate Rojelio Aleman, who told My RGV that he was worried about school funding.
“It’s very important because our schools need the money,” Aleman said. “They need the money to fix our infrastructure, to make our schools safe, because with the recent school shooting in Nashville — our children, our teachers need to feel safe. Also, our teachers need better pay. Our retired teachers need a cost of living adjustment.”
A Much Bigger War
School leaders and rural lawmakers see Abbott’s voucher efforts like the “camel’s nose under the tent.” Essentially meaning that GOP members who are pro-voucher will continue to move the goalpost, if SB8 is passed it will only be a small victory in a much bigger war – defunding public schools.
Charles Siler, a former pro-voucher lobbyist for Goldwater Institute in Arizona and the co-founder of Agave Strategies, a political consulting firm, told RA News, that he has directly observed this phenomenon in Arizona, adding that “it’s not even a secret.” A few weeks back, a Utah voucher lobbyist was caught on a hot mic saying she wanted to “destroy public education.”
“Until public funding for education is completely gone, the backers of this stuff will not stop,” Charles Siler continued. “We already have an incredibly expensive voucher program in Arizona and now they’re just talking about how much more money they can award per student – the ratchet will always continue.”
Republican political consultant Matthew Langston, who backs school choice, told The Dallas Morning News that rural residents fear that allowing any voucher-like program would catch up with them down the line, no matter what lawmakers are promising today.
“There’s no guarantee that two years from now they won’t come in and mess with the funding sources,” Langston said. “The reality comes down to there’s not been enough done to make sure that they can go back and look their local school officials in the eye and say, ‘We’re fully behind you, and this vote doesn’t impact the funding sources going into the district.’”