Tough Special Session on School Choice Nears

Gov. Greg Abbott
Gov. Greg Abbott | Image by Office of the Governor Greg Abbott/Facebook

Gov. Greg Abbott, a longtime champion of school choice initiatives, has ramped up his advocacy ahead of an anticipated special session on the subject next month; however, getting a bill across the finish line might be an uphill climb.

“When we empower parents to choose the best education path for their child, Texas students thrive,” he wrote in a post on X. “A majority of Texans from EVERY community support school choice. NOW is the time to deliver on our promise to bring school choice to every family in Texas.”

“Our children are the future of Texas,” the governor added. “We must ensure they have the opportunity to achieve their dreams with an education that fits THEIR learning needs.”

Polling appears to support the governor’s claim that popular support for voucher programs stretches across most demographics.

In June, a poll by The Texas Politics Project found that 58% of Texans supported “establishing a voucher, educational savings account (ESA), or other ‘school choice’ program.” The majority included 77% of Republicans, 56% of independents, and 36% of Democrats. Most white, black, and Hispanic respondents registered their approval, as did most people living in urban, suburban, and rural locations.

Similarly, a University of Houston poll found that 53% of Texans would support a school choice program that helps all families without any income limitations or restrictions on religious school attendance. Black Texans who identified as Democrats logged the most support at 68%, followed by Latino Republicans (64%), then white Republicans (61%).

In response to the anticipated special session, outspoken school choice supporter Rep. Brian Harrison (R-Midlothian) claimed school choice “improves public schools, empowers parents, improves student outcomes, and increases teacher pay.”

Rep. Nate Schatzline (R-Fort Worth) said, “It’s time to achieve education freedom for all Texas children!”

However, getting a school choice package passed might be complicated due to increased tension between the House and Senate following the impeachment trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton.

As reported by The Dallas Express, following the acquittal of Paxton by the Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick slammed the House and Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) for rushing to impeach the attorney general before securing sworn testimony from witnesses.

In return, Phelan accused Patrick of rigging the trial, suggesting the veteran statesman pressured senators to vote for an acquittal.

Patrick and Phelan have been at odds for years, but tensions recently hit a high-water mark, likely dampening the chances of substantial school choice legislation getting through both chambers.

Nevertheless, Abbott has indicated that he will draw a line in the sand over school choice, saying, “There’s an easy way to get it done, and there’s a hard way.”

“We will take it either way — in a special session or after an election,” Abbott said, according to The Texas Tribune. “If we do not win in that first special session, we will have another … special session, and we’ll come back again. And then, if we don’t win that time, I think it’s time to send this to the voters themselves.”

Anti-school choice groups like Pastors for Texas Children have denounced the legislative push and criticized Abbott’s promise to convene multiple special sessions, saying in a press release:

“The threats made by the governor this afternoon against pro-public education State Representatives are an inappropriate and desperate attempt to intimidate dedicated public servants representing the interests of their people.”

The group’s executive director, Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, added, “This crass bullying is particularly odious. … The truth of the matter is that the House of Representatives of the State of Texas opposes private school vouchers, as they have for over two decades. That will not change no matter how many special legislative sessions the governor calls.”

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