Abbott Confident School Choice Will Pass Next Session

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference | Image by Brandon Bell/Getty Images

With Republican primary runoff elections coming in late May, Gov. Greg Abbott appeared on Fox 7 Austin to give his take on how the outcomes could affect the likelihood of school choice legislation getting passed next legislative session.

Abbott expressed confidence that his efforts to oust Republican lawmakers who refused to support school choice during the last session would be successful and result in a sea change in funding for public and private schools.

Only two more pro-school-choice candidates need to get elected for the policy to have the necessary backing.

“We had a great program that we tried to pass in the special session that provided $6 billion more for public education, pay raises for teachers, the elimination of the STAAR test, plus school choice, and all the teachers union and administrator folks said, ‘we don’t want your money,’ because they wanted to maintain their monopoly,” Abbott said.

Many school districts and parents have voiced their displeasure with the amount of value being placed on standardized testing, which some see as an overreach by the state into the domain of local school districts’ decision-making. The STAAR exams were approved almost 20 years ago and were intended to track whether student learning outcomes were improving. Students in grades 3-8 are required to take the tests to gauge their advancement toward postsecondary readiness.

“Postsecondary readiness means students have the knowledge and skills to successfully complete freshman-level work in college or community college, earn industry certifications or state licenses, qualify for advanced military service, or complete other types on the job training to prepare them for the high-performance workplace,” the Texas Business Leadership Council wrote this month in support of maintaining STAAR testing.

Abbott noted that when the next legislature is sworn in, and a new deal is put together, it will unlikely be as generous as the offer anti-school choice lawmakers and education bureaucrats spurned last year, which could have significant consequences as many districts currently are struggling to budget for the upcoming school year and years beyond despite having received tens of billions of taxpayer dollars through COVID-19 programs.

Those funds were discretionary, and Abbott claimed that many of the districts that are now struggling cannot explain how they spent the money.

Rep. Steven Talarico (D-Round Rock) claims that the current school budgeting problems fall squarely on Abbott’s shoulders.

“The only reason we won’t get public school funding in 2025 is Greg Abbott, because the only reason we didn’t get funding in 2023 was Greg Abbott,” Talarico said, per Fox 4 KDFW. “He held funding for our neighborhood schools hostage to try to pass his voucher scam that would have taken money out of our underfunded schools and given it to wealthy families who are already sending their kids to private schools. It was welfare for the wealthy.”

Polling in Texas shows that most Republican and Democratic voters support school choice. A recent UT/Texas Politics Project poll shows that 51% of respondents were in support of options for youth education beyond the public school system.

Many school districts have been producing poor student achievement outcomes, leaving some parents searching for affordable alternatives.

In Dallas ISD, for instance, only 41% of students scored at grade level on the exams during the 2021-2022 school year. Moreover, nearly 20% of graduating seniors did not obtain a diploma within four years despite the hard work of the district’s dedicated teachers and principals.

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