Lately, there has been a lot of noise nationwide about school choice and here in Texas, that noise is no different as we head into the legislative session which begins in January.
Much of the outcry for education reform comes in the wake of failed COVID policies, masking requirements, Critical Race Theory (CRT) agendas, and child grooming and pornography in schools. We have seen the political dispositions of many school boards flip over these issues which may be a harbinger of what is in store in the coming legislative session. On Sunday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted about ending “woke agendas” in public schools but did not come out and explicitly say the answer was that of school choice but merely said we will pass “laws” to get it done.
Our schools are for education, not indoctrination.
We will put a stop to this nonsense in the upcoming legislative session.
Schools must get back to fundamentals & stop pushing woke agendas.
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) November 28, 2022
Similarly, U.S. Congressman Chip Roy (R-Texas) replied with his take on the same Fox News article but was instead adamant in his support for school choice in Texas as a fix. It is clear that Roy believes the answer to a bad educational system is not more “laws” banning such practices, but rather, competition allowing parents to choose the type of education their children receive.
Whenever you hear members of the #TxLege say choice for parents will kill rural schools – they are lying, and they are enabling this garbage to continue. Also, relatedly, CRT is marxist indoctrination – and “banning” it does not solve it. #EmpowerParents https://t.co/Eh9spD5LsJ
— Chip Roy (@chiproytx) November 28, 2022
These interactions serve as good examples of how many potential obstacles will stand in the way of breaking up the public school monopoly to favor students over institutions. Roy mentions that “Whenever you hear members of the #TxLege [Texas Legislature] say choice for parents will kill rural schools – they are lying, and they are enabling this garbage to continue.” It is not clear who he was talking about specifically in the Texas legislature, but it certainly brings to mind what Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said about rural schools just a few weeks ago.
“As Gov. Abbott has said, if there’s a school choice bill passed, it’s focused on our big cities, our big districts,” Patrick said. “Not that we don’t have some failing schools in rural Texas, but for the most part kids and families like their schools. We’ll bracket out rural Texas.”
Granted this quote was just days before the election on a radio show, it is likely Patrick was trying to shore up rural votes with his comment, but will he stick to his guns during the legislative session? If he does, why would he deny rural kids the same benefits as urban kids in Texas regarding school choice?
The secret no lawmakers want to tell you is that they are scared of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the repercussions of what school choice means when it comes to the support of teachers’ unions in future campaigns. It also is no secret that in many rural districts the largest employers are the public schools (explaining why Patrick would want to convince them he would exempt them). This is one of many reasons why the TEA opposes school choice, especially in rural districts. The TEA has successfully fear-mongered teachers into believing that if school choice passes no teachers will have jobs and the sky will start falling. However, the reality is that school choice will bring more opportunities and higher pay for great teachers if the free market is able to work. What Texas needs right now is politicians that are willing to stand up for parents and children, not archaic, broken institutions in desperate need of reform.
So what is the plan? What is Texas going to pass? Are we going for an “Arizona Style” choice program or something weaker? There has not been much talk about what form a school choice bill would take. There have only been a handful of school choice bills filed, but we have yet to see the “official plan” from either legislative chamber or Abbott himself. Here are a couple pieces of legislation that fall into the category of “School Choice” and are on Texans for Fiscal Responsibility’s radar, having been prefiled ahead of the upcoming legislative session:
House Bill 619 – Shaheen – Relating to an insurance premium tax credit for contributions made to certain educational assistance organizations.
This creates a “Certified Educatioal Assistance Organization” that would contract with the Texas Comptroller and would recieve tax benefits for paying educational expenses for students in Texas.
Senate Bill 176 – Middleton – Relating to the establishment of the Texas Parental Empowerment Program and an insurance premium tax credit for contributions made for purposes of that program.
This is very similar to Shaheens bill and creates a program under the Texas Comptroller that would provide education expenses for Texas students.
Both of these bills certainly would help expand choice for students in Texas, but it is unclear whether these bills are the ones that have the backing of both the Texas House and Senate leadership. Both legislative chambers reserve the first 20-30 numbered bills for “priority legislation” in any given legislative session. Once filed, this gives us the top bills we expect to pass and will have the support of each chamber’s respective leadership. When Abbott lists his “emergency” priorities at the State of the State address (likely in early February 2023) and when each legislative chamber reveals which (if any) school choice legislation will be filed as priority legislation in their respective chamber, we will have a better understanding of what type of school choice has a chance at passage.
Education takes up roughly half of the Texas state budget which makes school choice a very tall order. At the same time, there is also a number of homeschool groups that oppose many school choice bills for fear they would extend the tentacles of government into their homeschool curriculum. Add to that the fact that Texas taxpayers are simultaneously demanding property tax elimination, (which funds public schools) and we realize that Texas lawmakers have their work cut out for them in 2023. Come up with nothing and they risk the ire of parents and taxpayers across the state, however, if they were able to deal with both school choice and put Texas on a path to the elimination of school Maintenance & Operations property tax, this might actually be the biggest win for taxpayers in the history of Texas. Are our lawmakers up for the task? We will find out starting January 10th when the legislative session begins.
Rest assured TFR will be providing transparency and keeping our subscribers up to date with all important legislation in the 88th legislative session. Pay attention to our new TXLEGE section on the website for frequent updates on important news and bills in 2023.
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