88th LegislatureEducationIssuesState SenateStatewide NewsSchool Choice Bill Gets Marathon Hearing in Texas Senate Education Committee

Both supporters and opponents to the Senate's school choice plan had their opportunity to voice their opinions during a public hearing this week.
March 23, 2023
This week, the Senate Committee on Education heard public testimony on Sen. Brandon Creighton’s (R-Conroe) school choice plan, which is part of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s list of priorities for this legislative session. The hearing brought out both supporters and opponents.

Creighton submitted his anticipated plan for school choice reform a few weeks ago. This framework would allot $8,000 for students moving from public to private schools and includes a “hold harmless” provision for rural school districts that might have been concerned about the program’s financial impact.

Creighton led off the public hearing by providing comment on the bill, highlighting its ability to give parents choice in where to send their children to school and some of the additional issues faced when addressing failing schools in Texas.

“Private schools will set their criteria, and parents will make the decision on whether or not the criteria is fair or not and they will make the decision in regard to how it fits the needs of their kids,” Creighton said.

“That’s not really up to us, that’s best left to families and their discernment is much greater and much more wise than ours is.”

The Texan Tumbler

During the introductory portion, Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) questioned Creighton about why the movement of school choice amongst parents has been preempted by the public school options available to them in Texas.

“When public schools fail, do we close them automatically? If they fail two years in a row, do public schools fail? Absolutely not,” Creighton said. “Charter schools fail two years in a row, what happens? They close. Do you want to do the same thing with charter schools, do you want to do the same thing with public schools? There are a lot of things we can make improvements on as we continue this conversation.”

Nathan Cunneen of the American Federation for Children gave testimony in support of the bill, stating that the opportunity for school choice is what made his “education a reality and be the first person in his family to graduate college.”

“The sad reality is some in this room do not believe that I should have had that opportunity,” he said. “Please don’t put the political interests of adults over opportunities for students. Fund students, not systems.”

A national advocate for school choice, Corey DeAngelis, gave testimony in support with examples of other states that have instituted school choice options for parents and students, commenting that “10 percent of states have school choice options, Texas should be next.”

“There is a groundswell of support and it’s because parents are involved now. They have woken up and they are never going back to sleep. For far too long in K-12 education, the only special interest represented the employees, the adults in the system, but now the students have a union of their own and they’re called parents,” DeAngelis said.

Gov. Greg Abbott has been public in his support for school choice, having added it to his list of emergency items and continued to reiterate that support at public rallies and on social media.

The public hearing also attracted opponents to school choice reform.

Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston) questioned Dr. Charles Luke, a representative from Pastors for Texas Children, about Luke’s opposition to school choice reform.

Middleton asked him to explain recent social media activity by Pastors for Texas Children that stated, “Governor Abbott is going to leave the indoctrination to all those religious schools your tax dollars will fund if it passes.”

Luke answered by giving an example of his own family and how they differentiate school and religious instruction.

He said that his grandson goes to a Christian school “for the express purpose of indoctrinating him in the Christian faith. That’s why my daughter-in-law and my son put him there, so that he will learn about his faith and he will grow in his faith. There is nothing wrong with that, in fact I favor that and I support them in that, but I don’t favor tax dollars going for that.”

The Pastors for Children organization has been a prominent opponent of school choice in Texas and has criticized state senators who would create a school voucher system for “a dereliction of your duty before God.”

Troy Reynolds, the founder of Texans for Public Education, who noted before his testimony began that he was a United States Army Veteran and a conservative, stated his issue with school choice is the “government subsidization of religion.”

Earlier this week, Attorney General Ken Paxton released an opinion on the constitutionality of school choice options to allow parents to send their children to religious institutions with government funds. The opinion came down to the “Blaine Amendments” present in the state constitution, which Paxton concluded were themselves in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and that “any law, action, or policy implemented to comply with them is unconstitutional.”

“An Education Savings Account program offering parents and students education assistance payments that can be directed to public and private schools, including ‘sectarian’ schools, and that offers parents and students a genuine and independent choice to select a private religious school does not violate the Establishment Clause,” Paxton stated in his opinion.

Both SB 8 and 9 were left pending in committee and will await a vote before heading to the Senate floor for consideration.


Disclosure: Unlike almost every other media outlet, The Texan is not beholden to any special interests, does not apply for any type of state or federal funding, and relies exclusively on its readers for financial support. If you’d like to become one of the people we’re financially accountable to, click here to subscribe.

Get “KB's Hot Take”

A free bi-weekly commentary on current events by Konni Burton.

Cameron Abrams

Cameron Abrams is a reporter for The Texan. After graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Tabor College and a Master’s Degree from University of the Pacific, Cameron is finishing his doctoral studies where his research focuses on the postmodern philosophical influences in education. In his free time, you will find him listening to a podcast while training for an endurance running event.