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New PAC Looks To Pressure School Vouchers In 2024

Much of the fight over school vouchers in Texas is taking place off the legislative floor through pressure from political action committees. A new challenger has entered the field, the Family Empowerment Coalition PAC, which looks to press for vouchers under the guide of voter education and bipartisanship.

“The organization will be active in the 2024 elections to educate voters on which candidates stood with parents in supporting meaningful school choice legislation, defending these lawmakers from attacks coming from those seeking to limit parent involvement,” read a state issued on Tuesday.

The PAC touts itself as bipartisan, and technically it is, but it is unabashedly a pro-school voucher PAC.

The sole Democrat named in the press release is retired State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville. Lucio was one of the few voices that have consistently pushed for using taxpayer funds to send children to private schools. While he has often said that he wants to make sure that these schools don’t discriminate against the marginalized and poor, he has also pushed for vouchers (though he prefers not to call them that) without really doing anything to protect against those concerns. Lucio was also the lone Democrat to vote for the bill that created a voucher system for disabled and special needs children in 2017.

The other two names on the press release are both Republicans: Leo Linbeck III and Doug Deason. Linbeck has spent the last year advocating for public funding of Catholic schools, and plans to re-open several closed campuses in Houston if the school voucher program passes. Linbeck’s presence in the PAC does little to lessen the increasingly religious nature of the voucher debate.

Deason, meanwhile, is a Republican megadonor.

The language of the press release makes it clear that the PAC will be engaged in mailers against school voucher opponents and defending proponents with ads. Movement on vouchers has been stalled thanks to opposition from rural Republicans who see vouchers as a way to suck money out of their public schools to send it to wealthy private schools in the suburbs.

The schism in the Texas Republican Party over the issue has resulted in attempts to primary rural Republicans, almost all of which have resulted in complete failure. Governor Greg Abbott has employed pressure of his own, from a state-wide tour to promote the idea to vetoing bills, which also appears somewhat ineffective.

So far, it looks like none of the Republican opponents of school vouchers are in any electoral danger. The members of the House who have opposed the voucher system all seem to have the support of their communities, many of which rely on public schools as cultural hubs and major employers.

The Family Empowerment Coalition PAC does seem like it might be attempting a more conciliatory tone. Linbeck couches is support in terms of serving poor communities, and Deason is a well-known philanthropist for multiple causes. Neither is using the specter of “wokeness” that has been a primary catalyst in the voucher debate.

That said, the PAC is clearly a pro-voucher operation looking to move the needle in the next election and pressure House members to give in.

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.

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