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With Vouchers Dead, Public Schools Win, But At What Cost?

As the Texas Legislative Session nears its end with just one day remaining, it’s evident that Governor Greg Abbott’s primary legislative goal —vouchers— is no longer on the table. Furthermore, Speaker Dade Phelan’s announcement that the House won’t entertain any additional bills suggests that education funding, another crucial concern, has also met its end in this session.

Mid-November, the Texas House voted to eliminate the contentious school voucher provision from House Bill 1, a comprehensive education bill. The amendment spearheaded by Rep. John Raney garnered substantial support from over a dozen Republicans. The vote was 84 to 63.

Despite Governor Abbott’s concerted efforts to rally support, a coalition of 24 Republicans, predominantly hailing from rural backgrounds where the average total school population amounts to 50,000 students, unified with Democrats to thwart the passage of vouchers in the House.

The voucher initiative aimed to allocate taxpayer dollars to families for private schooling, a move opposed by public school advocates who think vouchers would  “simply divert public funds away from neighborhood public schools to private institutions or companies and are objectionable for a number of reasons,” as stated by the Coalition for Public Schools.

While the House vote was a relief for public school advocates, it also meant that additional funds for long-awaited teacher pay raises and inflation adjustments were at risk, as Abbott insisted on including vouchers in any public education funding bill.

Ever since the start of the regular session, Gov. Abbott asserted that vouchers enjoyed widespread popularity in Texas, contending that his support for them was in direct response to the desires of Texans. However, his insistence on linking vouchers with public education funding sparked significant discontent within the public education community.

The frustration arises from the Governor’s stance that the state’s historic budget surplus can only be allocated to enhance resources for schools if tied to a one-time cash infusion coupled with private school vouchers.

Superintendent Dr. David Maass from Grapeland ISD thinks the Texas Legislature really missed an opportunity to help public schools due to the unprecedented balance of money available this session.

“If vouchers were apparently so popular they should have been able to stand on their own without being tied to public school funding or teacher pay,” Dr. Maass told RA News. 

“We now know that vouchers were never popular and therefore had to be tied to something that was popular in the form of funding public education and teacher pay. Abbott and Patrick have shown themselves to be inflexible, vindictive, and petty during this session.

His concerns are echoed by Robert McLain, Superintendent of Plains ISD, who believes the fact that the governor would choose to use public schools and teachers as “bait” for his (voucher) trap is “disgusting.”

“Teachers work their hearts out and should never be used like this. This shows the governor’s contempt for public education and teachers in general,” McLain told RA News. 

Although defeating vouchers was a huge win, concerns loom over public schools facing funding challenges, leading some districts to adopt deficit budgets.

In a Texas Tribune article, Jerrica Liggins from Paris ISD acknowledged the financial struggle but deemed it an acceptable price for thwarting vouchers. Advocates now gear up for a renewed push for school funding in the upcoming legislative session, pledging to support pro-public school candidates in the next year’s primary elections.

Despite the setback, voucher advocates argue that education savings accounts could be vital for families seeking alternatives to traditional education. 

As Texas continues to grapple with the ongoing debate over school vouchers, the fate of this contentious issue remains uncertain, with both sides poised for future battles in legislative sessions and primary elections.

“In the future I hope that legislators can put their petty political priorities aside and do what is best for Texas children (ALL Texas Children,” said Dr. Maass. 

Jovanka Palacios
Jovanka Palacios
Jovanka Palacios, a Mexican-American Politics Reporter and Managing Editor at RA's Gun Violence Watch, unveils the Capitol's inner workings. Focused on Public Education and Gun Policies, she passionately advocates for informed dialogue, delivering concise, impactful insights into the intricate political landscape.


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