AMAC Exclusive – By Aaron Flanigan
Over the last year, legislators in a number of red and purple states have advanced legislation creating universal school choice for K-12 students—ushering in a historically encouraging moment for advocates of freedom in education. But despite the accelerating momentum of the school choice movement, Texas—which has often stood on the front lines of conservative priorities and pro-family causes—is oddly lagging behind.
Late Saturday, a bill that school choice advocates hoped would make it through the Republican-controlled legislature officially died, marking a frustrating conclusion to the state legislative, which ends on Memorial Day. School choice has been a rare political roadblock for Republicans in the Lone Star State, particularly at the end of a year that has yielded flagship legislative victories like banning dangerous and experimental transgender surgeries for children and cracking down on fentanyl distribution (both of which have passed the Republican-led state legislature but have yet to be signed into law by Governor Abbott).
According to The Dallas Morning News, the school choice bill—which would have provided Texas families with $8,000 in private school tuition or homeschooling costs—faced backlash not only from Democrats, but also from some rural Republicans who fear the legislation would hurt schools in their districts.
The Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers denounced the legislation as a “scam” that would eliminate “transparency and public accountability”—a sentiment shared by a handful of Texas Republicans. “Several Republicans that represent rural parts of the state said they’re still skeptical for a lot of the same old reasons: a dearth of private schools in sparsely populated areas, a fear of funneling money away from public schools and a lack of transparency,” the Morning News reported.
In an attempt to remedy these concerns, Governor Abbott, along with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an Austin-based conservative think tank, launched a series of “parent empowerment” events in rural parts of the state to rally support around the bill. Republicans also amended the legislation with provisions that would, for example, deliver pay raises for teachers as well as “hefty payments to public schools for every student they lose” to assuage the concerns of rural Republicans currently sitting on the fence.
However, the legislature ultimately failed to deliver on what Governor Abbott had identified as a major priority for this session.
Despite the setback, school choice advocates in Texas—including some from rural districts—feel confident that the provisions contained in the failed legislation will deliver for rural communities. “I represent rural counties as well. I feel like parents more than ever before, they deserve these options and they know what’s best for their kids,” said State Senator Brandon Creighton. “It will be interesting to see where the discussion goes through the rest of the session. I’m expecting success.”
Abbott, too, has pushed back against the charge that a state voucher program would disenfranchise public schools in rural areas. “Just like charter schools did not defund private schools in the state of Texas, neither will school choice in the state of Texas,” he said in March. “Wherever school choice is used, public education improves.”
Earlier this year, Abbott threatened to call legislators back for a special session this summer if they failed to send school choice legislation to his desk. Now, school choice advocates are hoping he makes good on that promise.
If Texas Republicans can manage to pass a bill, the Lone Star State would join a growing legion of red and purple states that have enacted greater education freedom for students and parents. As AMAC Newsline has previously reported, dating back to 2021, six states—including West Virginia, Arizona, Iowa, and Florida—have passed legislation emboldening parents to send their children to schools of their choice as Critical Race Theory, gender ideology, and other forms of left-wing indoctrination become more pervasive in American public schools. North Carolina Republicans are also on the brink of passing a similar legislative package.
“Empowering parents to choose the best educational path for their child remains an essential priority this session. A majority of Texans from across the state and from all backgrounds support expanding school choice,” Abbott said in a May 14 press release.
For decades, Texans have long sought to cement their state’s reputation as a champion for pro-family, pro-freedom, and pro-children causes. Now, parents and students will be looking to Governor Abbott and the GOP-controlled state legislature to do the same on school choice.
Aaron Flanigan is the pen name of a writer in Washington, D.C.