Feb. 3, 2023: The Fight Against Defunding Public Schools

This week’s Hotline is sponsored by Texas AFT corporate supporter Horace Mann. 

Header reads: Texas A-F-T. The Hotline.

Friday, Feb. 3, 2023

Gov. Abbott Ups the Ante on ‘School Choice’ Debate Despite National Voucher Horror Stories

Illustration of three hands — labeled

State funding for public education is under siege on several fronts. The specter of school privatization threatens the foundations of our public schools — along with the raises our school staff so desperately need. Illustration by Sierra Wiggers.

On Tuesday night, as most Texans were preparing for a severe ice storm, Gov. Greg Abbott gave his most full-throated endorsement to date of school voucher schemes.

As he has done previously, Abbott chose a private religious school to deliver his remarks on “parental choice.” This time, however, there were no “linguistic gymnastics.” Speaking at Annapolis Christian Academy in Corpus Christi, Abbott said “every child in the state of Texas” should have access to what he calls an education savings account.

Those who have paid attention to previous legislative sessions in Texas will recognize “education savings account” as a seemingly friendly rebranding of school vouchers.

As we noted in a post for The Texas Tribune this week, whatever you call it, a voucher is still a voucher:

“Whatever you call them, they will drain money from Texas’ already underfunded schools. Our state is 39th in the nation for per-pupil funding. As recently as 2020, the U.S. Department of Education found that the state, through chronic underfunding, was denying legally required support to students with disabilities.” 

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In this week’s Hotline: 

  • A number of bills have been filed already in the Texas Legislature that would introduce various voucher schemes and further defund public education.
  • In its first year, the cost of Arizona’s new voucher program is more than $100 million more than originally projected.
  • Meanwhile, in Ohio, an investigation is underway into a home-school network espousing neo-Nazi curriculum.
  • In positive news, it’s Black History Month, and we want to celebrate the Black Texans (including our own members) who make our state great.

— Texas Legislature

Bad Bills of the Week: Vouchers in the Texas Legislature

A number of bills have been filed already for various voucher schemes in the 88th Legislature. Here are some of the bad bills we’re watching: 


SB 176 by Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston) would create a private school voucher fund administered by the comptroller and carved out of the general revenue fund. The state would contract with nonprofits to award these vouchers to qualified applicants. The state would partially fund this program by awarding significant tax credits to corporations who donate to the program.


HB 557 by Rep. Cody Vasut (R-Angleton) would create a voucher reimbursement program administered by the comptroller for tuition, private tutoring, transportation, school supplies, and other private education expenses. Each reimbursement would be capped at the deduction amount for state and local sales and use taxes claimed by the parent on their most recent federal income taxes. These reimbursements would be paid out of public education funds.


HB 619 by Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) would create a private school voucher program for certain students funded by corporate donations and administered by a nonprofit. These corporations would receive a significant tax credit for their “donations,” tax dollars that would otherwise go to the general revenue fund and could be used to fund public education.


HB 1892 by Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) would create a voucher reimbursement program administered by the comptroller for private school tuition. Each tuition reimbursement would be capped at 80% of the state average maintenance and operations expenditures per student and would be paid for from funds that could otherwise fund public education. The bill specifically states private schools that participate in this program will not be accountable or regulated by any new state law.

SJR 29 by Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney) would amend the Texas Constitution to give parents the “right” to “choose an alternative to public education including a private school, parochial school, or home-school.”

— School Privatization

Ohio Department of Education Investigates Neo-Nazi Home-School Network

This week, news reports broke, unmasking an Ohio couple as leaders of the “Dissident Homeschool” network, a channel on the Telegram instant messaging app that disseminates neo-Nazi lesson plans for home schooling. 


Content warning: You can read more about the so-called curriculum from Vice News and The Huffington Post, but be prepared for viscerally racist, homophobic, and antisemitic examples. 


Ohio’s Department of Education has opened an investigation into the Dissident Homeschool and its reported operators, but the biggest concern is that the couple are not actually violating Ohio state law


By law, Ohio’s education department does not review and approve home-school curriculum. This is an extreme example, of course, but the situation in Ohio does raise questions about oversight of alternative education options and raises worrying questions about what taxpayer dollars could be used to support should the Legislature pass some type of school voucher. 


Cost of Arizona Voucher Program Balloons in Program’s First Year 

Arizona’s private school voucher program, passed last year, is proving to be costlier than anticipated, and Arizona taxpayers are footing the bill. 


According to a presentation by Arizona’s Joint Legislative Committee last month, the voucher program, which last year was projected to only cost $33.4 million in fiscal year 2023, now requires the state to provide a $200 million supplemental appropriation for this fiscal year just to stay afloat. The committee stated that its “best guess” is that the program will cost $376 million in fiscal year 2024, more than $100 million more than originally projected.

A representative for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials attributed the program’s ballooning expenses to the fact that it mainly attracted students who were already attending private schools or being home-schooled — students who previously cost the state nothing. Arizona is effectively subsidizing the cost of private school tuition for wealthy Arizona families.


Group photo of State Board of Education members with Governor Greg Abbott from today's livestreamed meeting.

State Board of Education Reverses Course on Vouchers, Charters

The new State Board of Education met this week in Austin, and the election of four new hard-right members was immediately felt in the boardroom this week.

Republicans LJ Francis (District 2), Julie Pickren (District 7), Evelyn Brooks (District 14), Aaron Kinsey (District 15), along with Democrats Staci Childs (District 4) and Melissa Ortega (District 1), were sworn in by Gov. Greg Abbott, who also offered comments on the direction public education should move during this legislative session.

Though Abbott mentioned greater investment in our schools, there was a conspicuous absence of his previous rhetoric on vouchers or so called “school choice.”

Vouchers and “choice” were on the meeting agenda, however. SBOE members revisited their previously approved 88th Legislative Priorities and reconsidered language that took a firm stance against public funds flowing to private school vouchers.

Board members voted to delete this statement from their priorities, a move that, while not binding, signals the new board’s closer alignment with state leaders on the privatization issue.

Additionally, the board voted in favor of a petition to amend its rule on the “no-contact” policy for new charter applicants. The existing policy prevents charter organizations from lobbying the Texas Education Agency and the SBOE during the application process.

In April, the board will begin the rulemaking process to reverse this policy almost completely.

Text reads: Texas A-F-T Legislative advocacy trainings.

To pass our Respect Agenda, we need all hands on deck, advocating for the needs of public school employees and students in the 88th Legislature. Our Wednesday series of Legislative Advocacy Trainings can help you stay plugged in to our collective fight! Find all the Zoom sessions and sign up online.


Next Event

Feb. 8, 6 p.m. CT: The Ins and Outs of Public Education Funding

— Legislative Advocacy

Photos described in caption

#RespectUsExpectUs: Our members across the state continue meeting with lawmakers about our Respect Agenda and its demands for across-the-board raises for school employees, funding increases for public education, and improvements to our working conditions. 


From left to right: Northeast Houston AFT members meet with Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) in January; U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee awards the Houston Federation of Teachers with a commendation at the union’s legislative breakfast.

For Black History Month, Texas AFT Recognizes Important Black Texans

Texas A-F-T celebrates Black History Month

February is Black History Month, an important time for educators and students to celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of Black people throughout history and acknowledge the struggles and injustices of the past and present.


Each week of Black History Month, Texas AFT will highlight both Black Texans from history and current or retired Texas school employees, all nominated for recognition by our members and leaders.

We believe to #TeachTheTruth, we must recognize and lift up the contributions of the wonderfully diverse population of our state, our country, and our world. For more ways to bring Black History Month into the classroom, check out the free lesson plans and resources available to AFT members through Share My Lesson.

Archive photo of Roxie Byrd

Roxie Doris Wells Byrd

Roxie Doris Wells Byrd was an advocate for women of color in Corpus Christi and encouraged women to rise in society by attaining higher education degrees. She was a champion for equality, education, and civil rights.

Nominated by Dr. Nancy Vera, president of the Corpus Christi Federation of Teachers

Headshot of Coretta Mallet-Fontenot

Coretta Mallet-Fontenot

Coretta Mallet-Fontenot has 25 years of experience as an educator, and in that time, there is very little she has not done for Houston ISD. In 2022, she used her wealth of experience to run for a seat on the State Board of Education.

Nominated by Jackie Anderson, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers

Headshot of Maurice Rausaw

Maurice Rausaw

Maurice Rausaw has been teaching in Texas for more than 30 years — 27 of those have been with Cy-Fair ISD. Rausaw is just as committed to his union work, representing Cy-Fair AFT members as an engaged building representative.

Nominated by Nikki Cowart, president of Cy-Fair AFT

— Sponsor Message

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EML-00247 (1-23)

Recommended Reading

Texas education news from around the state that’s worth your time

? Could Vouchers Lead To Homeschooling Of Texas Children In Neo-Nazi Ideologies? As the Texas Legislature debates bills in both chambers that could result in a voucher program that would effectively take funding from the state’s public school system, one aspect of that use of taxpayer dollars is unclear: could parents use tax dollars to homeschool their children in extreme ideologies? (Reform Austin, Feb. 1)

? Proposed Texas law would force content ratings on school books. A proposed law in the Texas House of Representatives would force publishers to put content ratings on books they sell to public or charter schools. (Courthouse News, Jan. 26)

? With Full State Coffers and Bipartisan Support, Texas Teachers Are Hopeful They’ll Get a Raise This Year. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle agree that Texas teachers should get a pay bump. Texas ranks 28th in the nation for teacher pay. (KHOU, Jan. 30)