This week, the Texas Legislature’s rumor mill went into overdrive, with reports that Gov. Greg Abbott’s long-threatened special session on school privatization will start somewhere between Oct. 9-11.
That start date has not been confirmed officially, nor has the official agenda for the special session. But the tea leaves are about as difficult to read as a billboard along I-35.
What we’re hearing
Last week, on a tele town hall with the right-wing advocacy group Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), Gov. Greg Abbott announced “School Choice Sunday” on Oct. 15, a day of action in which he encouraged pastors to use their pulpits to advocate for the privatization of public schools.
“There are times when God calls upon us to step up what we’re doing,” Abbott said in remarks tinged with Christian Nationalist themes on the rise in Texas politics. “This is one of those unparalleled opportunities, when all of us together, pastors and non-pastors alike, can unite.”
Abbott told the pastors and other attendees at the TPPF town hall that he would call an October special session to pass the voucher that he could not jam through the Legislature in the spring. Should it fail again? The governor said he would call another special session.
As for how the Legislature feels about returning for its third special session of the year, this time devoted to a deeply unpopular issue (more on that below), we have a House (and Senate) divided.
The impeachment trial and subsequent acquittal of constantly indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton has increased long-simmering animosity between the Texas House and Senate — two chambers already at odds over public school funding and private school vouchers.
At the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin this past weekend, we heard from three lawmakers with different outlooks on the voucher question. In a “school choice” panel discussion, Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls) carried the banner for school privatization, repeating talking points that intentionally ignore the funding implications for public schools.
Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, meanwhile, seemed ready to “compromise” on the issue, accepting a taxpayer-funded voucher scheme in exchange for increased public education funding and educator raises — ignoring the fact that vouchers will drain funding from public schools and threaten school employee jobs.
It was Rep. James Talarico (D-Austin) who echoed our sentiments, and those of many other public education supporters, saying “We are facing a historic crisis in our schools. Compromise is not a virtue when our kids are on the line and when our teachers are on the line.”
Who is this special session for?
With all the talk of vouchers, you’d think they’re overwhelmingly popular among Texans at large. The governor would like you to think so: On last week’s TPPF tele town hall, Abbott claimed to have seen a “hunger” for taxpayer-funded vouchers in his voucher barnstorming tour that has focused almost exclusively on private religious schools.
In poll after poll, the data does not back up the governor’s claims.
This week, the Texas Association of School Boards released results from a poll of Texas voters on education issues. When asked about the importance of key public education issues, the top two priorities were increasing educator salaries, with 73% of Texans considering it extremely or very important, and additional funding for public schools, with 68% of respondents prioritizing it.
Meanwhile, when asked about using public tax dollars to pay for private or religious schools, just 32% of TASB poll respondents said that vouchers are important — the lowest ranking issue in the poll.
Those poll findings — prioritizing salaries and funding, not vouchers — largely cut across the political spectrum. Likewise, a poll released by Texas AFT last week shows nearly unanimous concern about vouchers among Texas public school employees. According to our findings, 89% of Texas K-12 public school employees say they’re concerned that private school vouchers and expanded taxpayer funding for charter schools will hurt their public schools.
What you can do
It’s critical that the overwhelming majority of Texans opposed to private school vouchers make their voices heard as we head into this special session. You’ll have a chance to do so in a major way next weekend.
Saturday, Oct. 7, noon CT
Texas AFT is proud to join with fellow educators, parents, grandparents, students, and community allies, at the Texas Capitol for a rally to Boot Vouchers and support funding our neighborhood public schools! Get event details & RSVP online.
Can’t attend the rally? Take 2 minutes this week to call your representative and tell them that Texas public school educators and families will not accept a voucher in exchange for the funding they’re already owed. No deal. Click to call your representative.