Abbott Calls Out Anti-School Choice Incumbent

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott | Image by Joe Timmerman/The Texas Tribune

Gov. Greg Abbott accused Rep. Gary VanDeaver of being a “fraud” on Saturday, pointing to a campaign ad in which the embattled incumbent claimed Texas adopting school choice would result in taxpayer dollars going to unlawful migrants.

In a social media post, Abbott shared the campaign ad and referred to a bill that, if enacted, would have prohibited Texas taxpayer money from being used to educate unlawful migrants of school age. The bill died in committee last year.

“Every session he served in the Texas House he voted to use your taxpayer dollars to provide free education for illegal immigrants at your local public schools,” Abbott wrote. “Now, he knowingly misleads his own voters to try to protect the teacher unions.”

VanDeaver (R-New Boston), who voted to help kill school choice in the Texas House last legislative session, leaned into his vote in the ad, stating, “Last year I stopped a bill that would have handed out school vouchers — your tax dollars — to illegal immigrants.”

The bill in question, if made law, would have established education savings accounts funded by taxpayer money that Texas families could have used to help defray the costs of private school or homeschooling.

VanDeaver went on to allege that school choice would come at the expense of his House district to benefit cities and suburbs, an argument he has repeatedly deployed over the years, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

The representative has a lengthy 33-year history with education, having received a doctorate in educational administration and serving as the superintendent of New Boston ISD until 2014 when he was first elected to represent House District 1. Last election cycle, he enjoyed the support of the Texas State Teachers Association.

This year, he has two challengers: Chris Spencer and Dale Huls. While VanDeaver staked his re-election bid on his anti-school choice position, both his opponents support the policy.

Spencer, whom Abbott appointed as chair of the Sulphur River Basin Authority in 2018, wrote in a Facebook post last November that the school choice bill VanDeaver ended up voting against would “empower parents with Education Savings Accounts and … allow education tax dollars to follow the child.”

Abbott endorsed Spencer in December, calling him the “conservative champion that Northeast Texas needs.”

“He will come to Austin to ensure that every Texas parent has the right to choose the best education for their children, support the continued defense of our southern border, and fight for the conservative principles that have made Texas the land of freedom and opportunity that it is today. I am proud to endorse Chris Spencer, and I urge everyone in House District 1 to vote for him this March,” the governor said.

Similarly, Huls states on his campaign website that he favors school choice and would “strongly advocate for parental rights and educational freedom” if elected.

“I believe that parents are the primary decision-makers for their children in all matters and that this authority should be protected as an inalienable right,” Huls said.

While Abbott has chosen to endorse Spencer, Attorney General Ken Paxton has endorsed Huls, who served as a Harris County Republican Party precinct chair and election judge for 10 years.

Paxton said in his endorsement of Huls that VanDeaver was “a liberal Republican and bad on school choice.” He called Huls “a long-time conservative activist and fighter.”

Polling on the issue of school choice has largely favored the policy, with a survey conducted by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin finding that 51% of 1,200 respondents either strongly or somewhat approved of school choice, as previously reported by The Dallas Express. Only 30% of respondents said they were against school choice, with 19% stating that they did not have an opinion on the matter.

Among Republican primary voters, however, there appears to be much stronger support, with a recent poll finding that about 60% of those surveyed would be less likely to vote for an incumbent Texas House representative if they cast a vote against school choice. Additionally, some 64% of those surveyed “would, all other things equal, be more likely to vote for a Texas House candidate endorsed by Greg Abbott, compared to 14% who would be less likely.”

Still, an online poll conducted by The Paris News last February found that 50% of respondents oppose school choice, with just 37.5% saying they support the policy. The Paris News is based in Paris, Texas, just northwest of House District 1.

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