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Significant Funding Flows Into Voucher Fight Despite Varied Voter Sentiment

Despite vouchers not being a top education topic for primary voters, Gov. Greg Abbott is using all his resources to make vouchers a key issue in the upcoming election.

In 2023, Abbott spent a lot of time touring schools across rural Texas to sell voters on school vouchers. But when the time came, 21 rural Republicans alongside House Democrats voted to strip school choice from an omnibus bill.

Abbott is now campaigning against those rural Republicans, 16 of them are up for re-election, and Abbott has endorsed some of their opponents. His campaign though might not be enough to unseat those Republicans.

“It’s not clear to me that Abbott’s endorsement alone is going to shift voting patterns and negate all the work these members have done to build support in their community,” said Joshua Blank, research director of the Politics Project.

Contrary to what  Abbott would have you believe, school vouchers are not a top issue for Texans or Republicans in the primary.

According to a report by the Austin American-Statesman, Republicans are more likely to vote on issues such as border security, immigration, inflation and political corruption.

A December poll by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas found that even when voters ranked only education-specific issues, other education policies had more support than school vouchers.

Another February 2024 poll found that when Republican primary voters were asked what issues were important to them in the primary election, only 2% mentioned vouchers or school choice; education as a whole was mentioned by 5%.

Abbott also has plenty of money to promote vouchers and candidates who support the policy, because he received a $6 million contribution in January from Jeff Yass, a Pennsylvania billionaire who supports school choice.

On the other side of the fight, Charles Butt, chairman of the iconic Texas grocery chain H-E-B, is injecting more than $1 million into the campaigns of the 16 anti-voucher Republicans who oppose “school choice.”

The Charles Butt Public Education PAC, solely funded by Butt himself, has swiftly poured $1.3 million into the campaigns of nine Texas GOP candidates, seven of whom stood against Abbott’s voucher initiative, as reported by Jasper Scherer from the Houston Chronicle.

Among the recipients of Butt’s PAC money, Rep. Steve Allison of Texas House District 121 stands out, receiving $340,608.82. Allison now faces a challenge from Abbott-backed candidate Marc LaHood, creating a noteworthy contest in the upcoming election.

If Abbott wants to unseat these rural Republicans, he may have to spend a lot of resources.

“He’s raised a huge war chest full,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “That has to actually materialize in a meaningful way. The governor’s track record of success in trying to oust people he disagrees with is not great.”

For now, the latest polls show vouchers are not a relevant issue, but that could change in the coming weeks leading up to the March 5 primary.


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