The ‘School Choice’ Fight Has Begun at the Legislature

This past Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott delivered their inaugural addresses to the 88th Legislature in Austin. 

Both — for all their previous “linguistic gymnastics” — made one thing clear: a private school voucher push is coming. 

Now, we know most Texans see through “school choice” rhetoric and understand vouchers for what they are: a drain on already underfunded neighborhood public schools and a tax break for wealthy families who were already planning on sending their children to private schools

Polls show that. Past legislative sessions have shown that. Comments from rural Republican legislators show that. And yet, multiple bills have been filed already for this legislative session that would thwart the will of most Texans, especially most rural Texans. 

“The governor and I are all in on school choice,” Patrick said. “To the naysayers that say school choice hurts rural Texas, the governor and I will have a plan to protect those schools financially and to make sure those parents have choice also where they are in a failing school.”

“Failing schools” has become one of Patrick’s go-to phrases. As recently as November, he characterized major urban school districts like Dallas ISD as “dropout factories.” (Never mind that a large part of Dallas ISD’s slightly above average dropout rate can be tied to funding gaps, exacerbated by the rapid expansion of charter schools — with higher dropout rates — in the area.)

Privatization advocates point to misused standardized testing scores or problematic accountability ratings to paint a school as “failing.” But rather than judge a school and teacher by a child’s performance on a standardized test that has been judged to be two or three grade levels ahead of them, we prefer different metrics: the perspective of educators, students, and parents. 

What Texas Parents Say

Fortunately, we don’t have to wonder what most Texas parents and voters think about their public schools and the threat of privatization. They’ve told us, on more than one occasion. 

In a 2022 poll from the Charles Butt Foundation, 68% of public school parents in Texas gave their children’s schools an A or B grade — up 12 percentage points from before the pandemic. If other options were available, that poll found, 8 in 10 public school parents would keep their kids right where they’re at. 

Texas public school parents were even more complimentary of their children’s teachers, with 76% giving them A or B grades in the Charles Butt Foundation poll. 

These numbers track with findings from a 2022 Texas Parent PAC poll, too. In that poll, more Texas voters had a favorable opinion of local public schools (58%) than private schools (46%) or charter schools (41%). 

Nearly every voter surveyed by Texas Parent PAC (above 90%) supported hiring more teachers, increasing teacher salaries, and increasing funding for school supplies. Almost as many (82%) were concerned that voucher programs would endanger those things by taking money away from public schools. 

Zoom: The Truth About School Vouchers, Jan. 25

If vouchers are largely unpopular among the parents and voters who voucher proponents claim to care about, why are they such a hot topic for this Legislature?

We’ll discuss that next week in a legislative advocacy training: The Truth About School Vouchers

Our special guest will be Dr. David DeMatthews, a former public school educator and an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Texas at Austin. 
Sign up online for this and future Legislative Advocacy trainings, and we’ll email you the Zoom link before the event.