Gov. Greg Abbott has started a legislative war over public education in Texas when he pledged to push for taxpayer funds to pay for private school vouchers.
The issue has been a conservative goal for at least 20 years, hoping to make it easier for students to abandon failing public schools in favor of private schools. But a large coalition of Democrats and rural Republicans have battled down such legislation since the start.
According to The Houston Chronicle, school choice supporters point to the COVID-19 pandemic as the instigator of a nationwide appetite for parents to exert more control over their children’s education.
Abbott is hoping to appeal to them with the “Parental Bill of Rights” policies that he vowed to push next year. His support for school vouchers is part of that package.
“Empowering parents means giving them the choice to send their children to any public school, charter school or private school with state funding following the student,” he said.
The governor said in a radio interview he would leave the details to the Legislature to “hammer it out.”
Calling Abbott out is Rep. Harold Dutton, calling the governor’s remarks “more smoke than fire.”
The Houston Democrat, who last session chaired the House Public Education said Abbott’s real intention with school vouchers was to “Out-Republican the other Republicans who see themselves running for higher office.”
“He wants to make sure the public knows he can out-Republican them. I think that’s where it comes from. I don’t think he’s given a lot of thought to what’s happening to public education in Texas in terms of trying to have it fixed.”
Hoping to “Out-Republican” his opponents, he might have to follow in one of the most conservative state’s footsteps.
Since Florida is among the states with the most expansive school choice programs it will most likely become a model for future Texas legislation.
Currently, 187,000 students are on scholarships, and the state’s Legislature expanded eligibility last session so tens of thousands more will start this fall, as reported by The Houston Chronicle
Voucher programs have always been opposed by teachers’ unions, public education advocates, and Democrats, who believe the effect of vouchers will defund already strained public schools.
“If conservatives believe public schools are so broken that the state needs vouchers for a limited number of kids to flee for private schools, Abbott and the Legislature should instead focus on fixing the public school system,” said Dutton.
“Why don’t we put the fire out in the house where they are?”