Texas Wants to Know: Why school choice is a priority for the state's top elected officials

FILE: Texas Capitol
FILE: Texas Capitol Photo credit Getty Images

When the 88th Texas Legislature convened in January, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) listed school choice as one of his top priorities. But with the session set to conclude at the end of May, it's unclear if the Texas House will deliver.

School choice has been a passion project for some conservative lawmakers for decades, said Texas Monthly senior editor Forrest Wilder, who has written extensively about the intersection of public schools and politics. He said unlikely allies have kept it from passing over the years.

"The coalition that has kept vouchers from ever passing in Texas – and it has been proposed and tried and come close in the legislature for at least the last 40 years – is because of this the durable coalition between Democrats, or almost all Democrats, and generally rural Republicans," Wilder said.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, has helped organize Abbott's statewide tour to promote school choice. Mandy Drogin, the campaign director for the group's education arm, said the push for educational savings accounts, a voucher-like program, is not meant to drive a wedge between parents and public schools.

"If there's an open seat in a great public school their parent wants, let's let them go there. If they are unhappy with their options that are provided by the public system, then maybe they want to choose private. Maybe they want to choose to homeschool," she said. "We have a social contract and a constitutional obligation to educate every single child. And that's what this is about."

In the proposed legislation in Texas, money from the state would follow a student, where they went to public, private or charter schools. Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock) is a former teacher and said public schools can't afford to receive less funding.

"Texas is 43rd in the nation in per-pupil education funding. So if we were to add a private school voucher scam on top of that and siphon off money from our public schools to unaccountable private schools, you would see us drop even further in those rankings," he said. "I believe there is nothing our public schools can't do if they're given the right support and given the right funding."

This week's episode of Texas Wants to Know explores why school choice is a priority, how it would impact public schools, and who it would benefit. Listen in the Audacy app or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Getty Images