Advocates, parents and educators across Texas flocked to the Capitol Building on Tuesday to rally for an expansion in funding for private schools. Republican Governor Greg Abbott spoke to around 200 supporters who travelled to Austin on a rainy day to champion School Choice measures, saying “we’re going to show out and show the Legislature exactly why it is so important that we empower parents to choose the education that is best for their child.” He argued that school choice will help struggling students, and claimed that schools they leave will also benefit from his plan. Abbott has been advocating for school choice in recent months, as part of a series of “parent empowerment” nights.
The Governor is pinning his hopes on Senate Bill 8, which will provide families with an education savings account (ESA) offering up to $8,000 per student to pay for private schooling, and is supported by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and many Senate Republicans. However, the House is less receptive to the proposals and its Speaker Dade Phelan has not made the legislation a priority for the lower chamber. School choice has become an umbrella term for policies that include education savings accounts, vouchers, online schools, charter schools and magnet schools. Education savings accounts would be sufficient for religious Jewish parents to provide religious instruction to their children, which public schools do not allow.
Private school vouchers are controversial, with rural Republicans such as Rep. Ken King opposing them. Critics argue that they would defund public schools, and Abbott’s claim that he has been a champion of public schools in Texas has been challenged. Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, disagrees with Abbott’s assertions, arguing that he should “visit parents in Houston ISD and look them in the eye to say that he did everything in his power to support their children.”
Andrew Brummett, head of the upper school at private Austin Classical School, is supportive of Abbott’s plan, saying that it would empower teachers to open their own schools and become true professionals. Brummett said that private scholarships would require a household income of less than $159,000 for a family of seven, representing a struggle for the middle class. Donation from members, foundations and corporate sponsors partly funds the Texas Tribune media outlet, which has been financially supported by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.
School choice supporters hope to win over critical House Republican lawmakers, whose reluctance could mean that proponents have to rely on House Democrats for support. However, Abbott is optimistic about the passage of the bill, despite the mystery surrounding the bill’s future in the House. With school choice becoming a hot topic in Texas politics, this controversial issue will continue to be pushed forward and receive serious attention from policymakers.