88th LegislatureEducationStatewide NewsSchool Choice Activists Optimistic About New GOP House Public Education Committee Chair

With the new committee assignments in place, the meat of the legislative process begins.
February 8, 2023
Rep. Brad Buckley (R-Killeen) was appointed chair of the House Public Education Committee on Wednesday, a move lauded by some pro-school choice activist groups.

Buckley, who first won election to the Texas House in 2018, said of his appointment, “I am thankful to Speaker Phelan for the trust he has placed in me to lead a committee that impacts the lives of 5.5 million Texas school children.”

I look forward to working with members of the committee and my colleagues in the Texas House to craft policy to provide the best opportunities for Texas teachers, students, and their families.”

Last session, the committee was chaired by state Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) and featured multiple notable policy fights — including the stalling out of school choice legislation in that committee. This session, Dutton will chair the Juvenile Justice & Family Issues Committee but remains on Public Education.

The appointment appears to have buoyed hope for school choice among its supporters this session.

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Texas GOP Chair Matt Rinaldi, who spearheaded a large but unsuccessful push to ban the appointment of Democratic committee chairs, said Buckley “could be the most school choice friendly Pub Ed chair in over a decade.” Last session, including the special sessions, the only Texas GOP priority item that died at the hands of a Democratic committee chair was the school choice bill in Dutton’s committee.

Rinaldi also said he sees a “school choice majority” within the membership of the Public Education Committee. Along with Dutton, the vice chair of the committee is state Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston); the rest of the committee includes Reps. Ken King (R-Canadian), Oscar Longoria (D-Mission), Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler), Steve Allison (R-San Antonio), Charles Cunningham (R-Humble), Cody Harris (R-Palestine), Brian Harrison (R-Midlothian), Cole Hefner (R-Mt. Pleasant), Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin), and James Talarico (D-Austin).

Outside of Cunningham and Harrison, neither of whom were in the Legislature last session, only Hefner and Schaefer voted against a 2021 budget that banned the use of appropriated dollars for voucher programs. On top of that, King is a vehement opponent of school choice or voucher programs.

Support by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has breathed life into the lobbying effort to pass some form of school choice reform; the pair is “all in” according to Patrick. Earlier this month, Abbott backed Education Savings Accounts as his preferred method for the reform, but the biggest question mark has remained with the Texas House.

Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) has previously been skeptical that the votes to support it exist in his chamber.

Despite potential obstacles, school choice groups appear bullish on its chances with Buckley at the committee helm.

Representative Buckley will be an excellent chair for the House Public Education Committee, and we look forward to working with them this legislative session,” said Mandy Drogin, campaign director for the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Next Generation Texas initiative. “This is an important first step in ensuring that Texans have a system that respects the parent and ensures transparency and a high-quality education on school campuses.”

American Federation for Children-Texas spokesman Nathan Cuneen echoed that sentiment: “Brad Buckley has long been committed to providing the best education possible for Texas children and his appointment as Public Education Chairman is a win for all Texans. AFC-TX is committed to working alongside Chairman Buckley, Speaker Phelan, and the entire Texas Legislature to provide the greatest educational opportunities for all those living in the Lone Star State.”

The issue is primed for a knock-down, drag-out fight in the Legislature as Democrats corral their own opposition to the potential reform. State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio), chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, called the proposal “a nonstarter” with his caucus.


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Brad Johnson

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.