Governor Greg Abbott has been cagey on what exactly his support for “school choice” would entail, but he settled the matter this week at a Parent Empowerment Night event in Corpus Christi. He wants an education savings account that would let parents use taxpayer money to send their kids to private, mostly religious, schools.
“That will give all parents the ability to choose the best education option for their child,” Abbott said. “The bottom line is this: This is really about freedom.”
Under Senate Bill 176, parents could opt out of the public school system and receive up to $10,000 annually to send their child to another school. Parents are already free to send their children to charter schools or other campuses in or out of district if their child’s needs aren’t met.
Opponents worry such a system would drain public schools of money at a time when they are already struggling. Texas allots funds to schools based on attendance, and a large outflux of students for private schools would further limit their budgets.
Abbott’s most difficult legislative opposition is likely to come from rural Republicans, who generally oppose any efforts to defund the school districts that serve as community hearts. Rural communities usually lack access to expensive private schools and are more reliant on state schools for their children’s education.
One consistent opponent of the push for vouchers is State Rep. Shelby Slawson (R-Rochelle).
“I am openly & adamantly anti-voucher and have spoken out about that—and why—at forums this year,” she said in a Facebook post in 2020. “A *few* key reasons: (1) our rural schools do a remarkable job of educating our kids, despite in many cases already being strapped for resources; (2) taxpayers have a voice with their local public school board that would not exist with private schools or home schools (an issue that ought give conservatives considerable pause); and (3) where the public dollars go, the government will follow, eventually eroding the most common reasons for choosing private schools (religious instructional component, no standardized testing). I do fully support a parent’s right to choose between public, private, or homeschool options, but I do not support diverting tax dollars to follow that choice.”
One of Slawson’s constituents is TJ Penn, a conservative special education teacher in Rochelle. He, too, opposes the voucher program.
“This is a terrible idea they should be focusing on solutions to the teacher shortage,” he says. “Not taking money out of the system and make conditions worse. Public schools are important to all communities students are our future. In small rural communities most of the time the school is the community. If something happens in the community, it’s at the school. Rural schools have the deck stacked against them simply by the amount of money and resources they can access. This can be overcome. Rochelle ISD is the prime example. We are the number one school in the state on accountability ratings. Yet no one has traveled to our little school to see what they are doing?”
Polls consistently show that Texans oppose school voucher programs by a narrow margin, though that number can jump above 50 percent if framed merely as “school choice.” However, even among those who do support vouchers, there remains concern about what will happen to public school funding. More than 80 percent of Texans say they worry about public schools suffering, with 57 percent adding that the loss in school revenue would likely lead to higher property taxes.