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Gov. Greg Abbott Promotes School Choice Legislation, Opponents Pushback

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott believes parents should be in charge of their children’s education, and that’s the message he delivers to parents, educators, and community members at events across the state.

“In Texas, we believe in freedom,” Abbott said on Thursday at the Parent Empowerment Night at Grace Community School in Tyler, Texas. “When you think about it, there may be no more profound freedom that is actually necessary than the freedom of parents being empowered to make the best decisions for their child.”

The Republican governor has prioritized expanding school choice and supports legislation allowing parents to use state funds to pay for education outside the public school system.

GOP lawmakers, including state Sen. Mayes Middleton and state Reps. Matt Sheehan, Burgundy Cain, and Angela Paxton have filed several bills favoring education savings accounts, also known as vouchers, which lawmakers say would give parents more school options for their children. Parents could use funds for various types of education, including private, religious, homeschool, and virtual learning.

The idea of education saving accounts has gained popularity nationwide over the last decade.

More than 20 states, including Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Utah, have adopted various forms of school choice programs, according to State Policy Network. Abbott hopes to add Texas to the growing list.

However, some Texas Republicans representing smaller, rural school districts have killed school choice bills in previous sessions, arguing that losing any amount of state funding could be detrimental to public education.

Republican state Rep. Ken King has vowed to reject all school voucher bills.

“If I have anything to say about it, it’s dead on arrival,” King said in November, according to the Texas Tribune. “It’s horrible for rural Texas. It’s horrible for all of Texas.”

King is not alone in his sentiment.

School Choice Opponents

Opponents of education savings accounts believe that making state funds available for all Texas students could harm public school students.

“In our state, we have 300,000 kids that are attending private school,” Bob Popinski, senior director of policy at Raise Your Hand Texas, told The Epoch Times. “Under a universal savings account, every one of those 300,000 kids could be eligible.”

Raise Your Hand Texas is a non-profit that advocates for public school education.

In Texas, the average per-student public education funding, which includes charter schools, is approximately $10,000.

And whether a student is currently attending private school or not, they would be eligible for the plan to help pay for private or religious school tuition.

“So, that’s about $3 billion coming out of the foundation school program for kids that already attend private school,” Popinski added.

The state average private school tuition is $10,120 for elementary schools and $11,691 for high schools, according to Private School Review.

Popinski said rural districts with fewer students could be forced to cut staff or services if lawmakers pass school choice.

“If you have four or five kids at a pretty small campus and they leave for a private school, or a private vendor or private virtual program … that campus still needs to staff all of the teachers, still needs to staff all the cafeteria workers, still needs to staff all the bus drivers, as well as provide all of the services that campus needs.

“Each of those kids is worth $10,000 in terms of how we fund them,” he said. “That’s $50,000 leaving that campus where you still need all those services.”

Some educators also argue that vouchers would “leave behind the very kids” the governor says it would help.

“Class sizes would have to increase, and we know that’s not beneficial to students,” Corsicana Independent School Superintendent Diane Frost told The Epoch Times.

Frost leads a staff of 900, and the district serves approximately 6,000 students. Corsicana sits about 55 miles southeast of Dallas.

Private schools are not held to the same academic standards as public and charter schools, she continued.

“All of our educators in Texas know that our schools are held to very rigorous accountability standards,” Frost said. “It is a disservice to our parents for lawmakers to allow public taxpayer dollars to be spent on private or religious schools that are not held to the same standards.”

School Choice Advocates

The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a conservative think tank, believes it is time for the state to “remove the barriers that limit where parents can choose to send their kids to school.”

“Parents should be the ultimate decision-makers when it comes to the best education for their child,” according to the TPPF website.

Middleton, who authored SB 176, also wants parents to have more options available for their children—no matter what size district they are in. (pdf)

“Educational choice programs are being passed in rural states like Oklahoma and now Arkansas because parents support educational choice. And parents don’t see themselves as ‘rural parents’ or ‘urban parents’ or ‘suburban parents.’ Parents just see themselves as parents, period,” Middleton wrote on Twitter.

Last week, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed into law an educational reform bill that broadens school choice by the 2025-2026 school year.

The pushback from rural districts has been misleading to parents, according to TPPF ‘s Mandy Drogin.

“They portray it [school choice] as all pain and no gain for districts that may lack an array of private, charter, and magnet schools urban and suburban districts enjoy, Drogin said. “Choice puts rural students on competitive ground with city kids because it results in more options.”

The Texas Private Schools Association (TPSA), which lobbies state legislature on behalf of private schools, favors school choice legislation and believes there is strong support among parents.

“I’m excited for people to truly understand how private schools work and how they can be partners with public schools in a way that hasn’t happened before,” TPSA Executive Director Laura Colangelo said, according to the Texas Tribune.

Abbott’s Funding Pledge

Abbott has pledged to continue fully funding public schools.

“Under the school choice program, all public schools will be fully funded for every student,” Abbott said. “We will ensure that public education will have the resources they need to educate our kids—that’s one of our goals.

“I can tell you we will be adding billions of dollars to public education, including more raises for our teachers,” the governor added.

According to the governor, and others, including the TPPF, transferable school funding has been shown to increase test scores and improve parent satisfaction.

“But the fact is, we’ve seen remarkable success from school choice programs and education savings accounts in other states. Kids and parents in Texas deserve the same.”

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