Texas Falls Behind Other Red States Embracing School Choice

A handful of Republicans join with Democrats to stop school choice in the Lone Star State.
Texas Falls Behind Other Red States Embracing School Choice
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott shares his plans for school choice at Power Empowerment Night in Tyler, Texas, on March 10, 2023. (Courtesy Office of the Governor)
Darlene McCormick Sanchez

With the defeat of school choice during a fourth legislative session, GOP-controlled Texas remains an outlier as other red states embrace school choice.

The defeat of school choice in Texas was a self-inflicted wound, with 21 House Republicans joining all Democrats last week to defeat one of GOP Gov. Greg Abbott’s top priorities.

Texas is now one of the reddest states in the country without school choice, which is supported by most voters in the Lone Star State, according to several polls, while being opposed by teachers unions.

Six states—Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Utah—launched new universal programs in 2023.

Indiana and North Carolina also expanded their programs to include all students. Arizona and West Virginia already had universal school choice programs.

And Tennessee, which has Education Savings Accounts for low-to-moderate-income families in three counties, is expected to push to expand its program.

Mandy Drogin, campaign director for Next Generation Texas with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said Texas is lagging behind other states on an important parental rights issue.

“Thirty-one states across the United States have done this,” she said of school choice.

Parents need the option of removing their children from failing schools. They are tired of schools indoctrinating children on Critical Race Theory (CRT) or gender theories instead of educating them, she said.

School choice would encourage schools to focus on education instead of social justice, she said.

“We keep trying to legislate good teaching—high-quality education. You can’t legislate that, just like you can’t legislate a lot of things,” she said.

School choice passed the Texas Senate with ease but hit a brick wall in the House.

Texas Republican John Raney proposed an amendment to House Bill 1 (HB1) that has essentially killed school choice for now.

The 84-63 vote stripped education savings accounts from HB1, a public school funding bill allotting $7 billion in additional funding and giving $4,000 raises to Texas teachers.

The House failed to pass the remaining portion of the bill.

It’s unclear if Mr. Abbott, a parental rights advocate, will push the Legislature to continue efforts to pass school vouchers in the current special session, which ends Dec. 6, or whether he would call a fifth special session.

Issues in Debate

Steve Toth, a strong supporter of school choice, said he hopes the governor calls another special session to “end the injustice to poor kids” who are stuck in big-city schools where they often struggle to learn.
Texas GOP lawmaker Steve Toth. (Courtesy of Steve Toth)
Texas GOP lawmaker Steve Toth. (Courtesy of Steve Toth)

He pointed out that rural Republicans were in favor of a voucher system, yet their elected representatives helped kill it.

Some claimed the bill would hurt rural districts financially if students left.

But Mr. Toth tried to address those fears, saying that rural schools usually outperform urban ones. The bill would have also offered schools and teachers more money as part of the deal.

“Kids will not be leaving public schools in rural Texas,” Mr. Toth said. “And yet, these Representatives who are sold out to the teacher’s unions are saying no—it’s mind-numbingly stupid and selfish.”

Several organizations opposed the vouchers, fearing it would impact funding.

Texas American Federation of Teachers, affiliated with the national union headed by Randi Weingarten, applauded the demise of the Texas voucher bill.

“No matter how many special sessions it takes, we have and will continue to stand united with our allies to defeat vouchers,” the organization stated on its website.

In 2022, GOP voters overwhelmingly approved a school choice proposition to give parents the right to select their child’s schools, public or private, and for funding to follow the student.

Some 1.6 million, 88 percent, of GOP voters supported the non-binding school choice proposition.

Republicans Split

A total of 21 Republicans representatives voted to strip vouchers from the more extensive education bill. It remains to be seen if their vote will impact their political futures in the 2024 primaries.

Those GOP House members who voted against school choice include state Reps. Steve Allison, Ernest Bailes, Keith Bell, DeWayne Burns, Travis Clardy, Drew Darby, Jay Dean, Charlie Geren, Justin Holland, Kyle Kacal, Ken King, John Kuempel, Stan Lambert, Andrew Murr, Four Price, John Raney, Glenn Rogers, Hugh Shine, Reggie Smith, Ed Thompson, and Gary VanDeaver.

Parents and students gather in protest of school district policies at the Placentia Yorba Linda Unified School District offices in Placentia, Calif., on Jan. 18, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Parents and students gather in protest of school district policies at the Placentia Yorba Linda Unified School District offices in Placentia, Calif., on Jan. 18, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

On Nov. 20, Mr. Abbott announced endorsements for 58 House Republicans who opposed the amendment to kill the voucher bill.

“Our work for Texas parents and students is not done,” the governor said.

“I encourage Texans to join me in supporting them for reelection so we can pass school choice for all Texas families and continue to build a safer, brighter, and more prosperous Texas of tomorrow,” he said.

Epoch Times reporter Ross Muscato contributed to this report.
Darlene McCormick Sanchez reports for The Epoch Times from Texas. She writes on a variety of issues with a focus on Texas politics, election fraud, and the erosion of traditional values. She previously worked as an investigative reporter and covered crime, courts, and government for newspapers in Texas, Florida, and Connecticut. Her work on The Sinful Messiah series, which exposed Branch Davidians leader David Koresh, was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist for investigative reporting in the 1990s.