Did Greg Abbott's Fight for School Vouchers Get Easier? | Dallas Observer

Did Greg Abbott's Fight for School Vouchers Get Easier on Election Night?

Many of Gov. Greg Abbott's school voucher pushers won their elections last Tuesday. However, some say school vouchers weren't at the top of voters' minds.
While some school voucher proponents were victorious Tuesday night, popular support for the idea has waned since 2022.
While some school voucher proponents were victorious Tuesday night, popular support for the idea has waned since 2022. Kenny Eliason/Unsplash
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Several Republicans who opposed Gov. Greg Abbott’s push for school vouchers in the last legislative sessions are out of office, while others who were against the governor's controversial plans face the possibility of the same fate in runoff elections that will follow Super Tuesday. It’s all been part of Abbott’s plan since at least November, when the House resoundingly rejected his last voucher gasp. His revenge tour seems to be paying dividends, and some fear the state is creeping ever closer to finally introducing a school voucher program.

According to CBS, Abbott spent more than $6 million endorsing pro-voucher candidates, such as Marc LaHood, who beat three-term Rep. Steve Allison, a San Antonio Republican. “I have a long history of being opposed to private school vouchers,” Allison told Texas Public Radio. “It's devastating to public education that we have a constitutional requirement to provide.”

Brian Phillips, chief communications officer of the conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation, said in an email that after Tuesday night, the state is one step closer to passing school vouchers.

“Insiders say there are now a solid 74 votes for school choice [school vouchers] in the Texas House and only a couple runoffs need to go a certain way to get to the 76 supporters needed to get it passed,” Phillips wrote.

Mandy Drogin, a campaign director for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, told The Texas Tribune: “Texas is closer than ever to delivering on the promise that every parent be in control of their child’s education. Empowering parents with more and better educational options will continue to be one of the top issues in Texas until it gets passed.”

According to KUT, Abbott claimed victory in a statement on Tuesday, saying “Republican primary voters have once again sent an unmistakable message that parents deserve the freedom to choose the best education pathway for their child.” 

“It would absolutely be easier for Abbott to pass a voucher.” – Monty Exter, Association of Texas Professional Educators

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But if you ask Monty Exter, director of government relations for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, Republican primary voters weren’t voting for school vouchers on election night.

“The vast majority of the campaign literature that went out from the folks who were supporting the challengers didn't really have much of anything to say about vouchers,” Exter told the Observer. “That campaign literature was primarily focused on either border issues, or when it was focused on public education, it primarily spoke to general public education funding, as opposed to specifically about vouchers. Vouchers were almost an afterthought on those mailers.”

On top of that, election results from Tuesday showed a decline in support for school vouchers among Republicans. One Republican ballot proposition said, “Texas parents and guardians should have the right to select schools, whether public or private, for their children, and the funding should follow the student.”

That proposition only got 77% of the vote. A nearly identical ballot proposition was proposed in 2022 and garnered almost 90% of the vote from Republicans.

Exter said, “So, there's indications that support for vouchers slipped, and while those particular incumbents lost their races, there's really no indication that that had much to do with voucher positions, in terms of what voters were voting on.”

But just because voters didn’t vote these challengers in to pass school vouchers doesn’t mean they won’t turn around and do just that, Exter said. “If those folks were in office today, and we were going into session tomorrow with the crop of folks that were just elected, then you know, it's not that it would be potentially easier,” Exter said. “It would absolutely be easier for Abbott to pass a voucher.”

Clay Robison, a spokesperson for the Texas State Teachers Association, told the Observer that Tuesday night’s results will make the fight against vouchers tougher. He, too, said incumbents didn’t lose because people were voting for school vouchers but because of lies their challengers told on the campaign trail.

“There were some campaign videos that basically accused these guys of voting against additional funding for public education, which they did not do,” Robison said. “We believe that every one of these anti-voucher guys would have voted for increased public school funding, but they never got a chance.”

Asked how the association will continue combating school vouchers, Robison said by telling the truth. “That is, that our public schools are underfunded,” he said. “And if you divert millions of dollars, which eventually will become billions after so many years, to private schools and through the form of vouchers, then the plight of the budgetary issues in public schools will get worse.” 
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