The politically-charged word “vouchers” hasn’t yet crossed the lips of Governor Greg Abbott as he’s touted support for school choice ahead of the 2023 legislative session, but he got much closer on Monday night.
“Empowering the parent means giving them the ability to send their child to any public, charter, or private school with state funding following the student,” Abbott told a gathered crowd in San Antonio alongside state Rep. John Lujan (R-San Antonio) before signing a pledge.
Abbott’s campaign hinted earlier in the day that the governor would expand on his already released “Parental Bill of Rights” at the event — cementing the existing list of parental education rights in state code into the Texas Constitution.
That statement is as explicit about school choice legislation next session as the governor has been since he declared in January, “This upcoming session, you’re going to see a stronger, swifter, more powerful movement advocating school choice than you’ve ever seen in the history of the State of Texas.”
“We can fully fund schools while also giving parents a choice in which school is right for their child,” the governor further said on Monday.
Abbott’s opponent, Democrat Beto O’Rourke, said shortly after, “Abbott is for defunding our public schools.”
“I’m for fully funding our kids’ classrooms and fully supporting parents, teachers, and students.”
School choice, most often in the form of vouchers that allow parents to take what they pay in tax dollars to local schools elsewhere, and parental rights have vaulted to the forefront of Texas political discussion. It’s a product both of the pandemic shutdowns and health policies along with the curriculum-focused issues of gender education and racial teachings.
Abbott isn’t igniting some new political issue as much as he’s clinging to a wave that already existed — one that ushered a Republican, Glenn Youngkin, into the Virginia governor’s mansion for the first time since 2010.
But the wave itself extends beyond school choice specifically.
Homing in on obscene content that has been found in some school libraries, Abbott stated, “Educators who provide pornographic material will lose their educational credentials, forfeit their pension benefits, be placed on the do-not-hire list.”
Abbott said that he aims to expand parents’ access to course curriculum and streamline their ability to voice concerns about its content. Parental choice in whether children repeat courses or grades is also an addition to his education platform, along with a prohibition of data and information sharing.
While Abbott’s rhetoric in his own race has hugged the school choice line, his endorsements in some lower-level GOP races have not. Two of Abbott’s endorsees, state Reps. Glenn Rogers (R-Graford) and Kyle Kacal (R-College Station), have come out hard against vouchers while other candidates have been endorsed, though rejected, the endorsement of the anti-vouchers union American Federation of Teachers.
The conservative praise of Abbott’s statement began to flow in shortly after his comments.
“Governor Abbott’s education plan is common sense: parents deserve a say in their children’s education,” Jessica Anderson, executive director of Heritage Action, told The Texan. “For too long, we have seen the woke Left insert politics into our schools, violate parents’ rights, and force a one-size-fits-all approach on students. But now, thanks to Governor Abbott, Texas will be leading the charge in school choice, transparency, and accountability.”
Mandy Drogin, state director of the pro-school choice group American Federation for Children-Texas, said in a statement, “With today’s announcement, Governor Abbott has made clear that Texas will prioritize student-centered educational policies that ensure that money will follow the student to any school their parents choose — this includes high-quality public schools, public charter schools, private schools, and more.”
The Texas legislature reconvenes in January 2023, and until then the state will be gripped by a heated midterm election in which education reform, in some shape or form, is set to be featured prominently.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.