Governor Greg Abbott delivered the State of the State address on Thursday, the content of which was expectedly geared toward far right legislative goals for the current session. Perhaps mindful of potential opposition from rural Republicans for his proposed school voucher system, Abbott tried to assuage critics with promises of how public schools would continue to be funded even as taxpayer money was siphoned off for religious schools.
“To be clear, under this school choice program, all public schools will be fully funded for every student,” said Abbott. “This is so vital to the future of our state that I am making education freedom an emergency item this session.”
It’s hard to understand how Abbott’s assertion would play out in real life. Texas uses an attendance model to determine student funding allotments. Every child that is not attending a public school is thousands of dollars lost. To fulfill his pledge, Abbott would have to radically increase the state budget to provide both for his Education Savings Account and the money that public schools would otherwise gain.
“When a family uses a voucher, public school districts lose funding,” reads an article by David S. Knight, assistant professor of education finance and policy at the University of Washington, and David DeMatthews, associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at The University of Texas at Austin. “Education savings accounts and tax credit scholarships are less traditional approaches to vouchers, but they still take away money from public schools.”
They used Cleveland ISD in Liberty County as an example, pointing out that the loss of just ten students would cost a staff member.
Nonetheless, Abbott touted the success of the SSES program, which serves as a voucher for special needs children who were underserved during the COVID pandemic. While the SSES did pass with bipartisan support and has greatly helped some families, in practice it has fallen far short of providing everything that parents would have been getting from a public school. Abbott cited the fact that lawmakers want more money for it as proof that it could work for all students, not just special needs ones, as proof of concept.
“It worked so well that a bipartisan super-majority passed it into law and now wants to increase funding for it,” he said. “Now, it’s time to provide every parent with the ability to choose the best education option for their child.”
The far-right ideological origins of the recent voucher push were also apparent in Abbott’s speech. He spoke fervently about the need to keep “woke” agendas out of schools and implied that students were being taught to hate America. Opposition to teaching the full extent of white supremacy, as well as LGBT inclusive curriculums, have led to a massive culture war under the banner of school choice.
It is hardly surprising that voucher systems almost always increase racial segregation in the school system knowing that the programs are largely driven by ultra-conservatives. Despite this, Abbott continues to push for vouchers.