Primary Election Recap: Voucher Money Won Some Races. Vouchers Themselves Did Not.  

Left: Texas AFT members joined a Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation canvass for educator-endorsed candidate for HD 146 Lauren Ashley Simmons in February. Right: Southwest Dallas AFT members invited Aicha Davis, member of the State Board of Education and educator-endorsed candidate for HD 109 to a local union event in February.    

After facing decades of fierce bipartisan resistance to the idea of using taxpayer dollars to pay for private school tuition, school voucher supporters “in Texas” — more on that in a moment — emerged from the March 5 primary election claiming victory. But should they? Let’s dig deeper into the results.  

Republican Primary Results: Upheaval in the Texas House 

Candidates who are voucher proponents benefitted from an absurd infusion of out-of-state money from political action committees (PACs) funded by billionaires intent on privatizing public schools throughout the nation. Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign spent upwards of $13 million to unseat six of the 16 Republicans who defied him in the 88th Legislature by standing up for their neighborhood public schools and fighting to stop private school vouchers for the wealthy.  

Voucher crony money won some races, but Abbott loyalists who supported his voucher scheme also lost their primaries — from Rep. Jacey Jetton, author of one of the 2023 voucher bills, to Rep. Kronda Thimesch. Public education, as it so often is, was the pawn in a largely unrelated battle; this time, our schools were caught up in a three-sided GOP civil war between Attorney General Ken Paxton, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and the governor.  

Rep. Glenn Rogers, R-Weatherford, was one of the six Republicans who voted against vouchers that the governor was able to unseat Tuesday. After the election, Rogers made his thoughts quite clear, writing in a local newspaper column:   

“Governor Greg Abbott has defiled the Office of Governor by creating and repeating blatant lies about me and my House colleagues, those who took a stand for our public schools. I stood by the Governor on all his legislative priorities but just one, school vouchers. For just one disagreement, and for a $6 million check from Jeff Yass, a Pennsylvanian TikTok investor, and voucher vendor, Abbott went scorched earth against rural Texas and the Representatives who did their jobs-representing their districts.” 

Social media ad buys by the 16 Republican incumbents and their Abbott-backed challengers reveal just how uncompelling private school vouchers are as an issue for Texas Republican voters. Border security hysteria, lies about gender-affirming care, defense of perennially indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton, and the endorsement of equally legally troubled former President Donald Trump made more appearances in these campaign ads than vouchers. 

“If vouchers are such a winning idea, then why did Abbott run an entire campaign on the message of border security?” said Texas AFT ally Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, head of the House Democratic Caucus. 

That’s a question for all Texas voters to consider as we look toward a busy May 28 primary runoff election, with five of the anti-voucher Republicans targeted by Abbott on the ballot once again.  

Democratic Primary Results: A Strong Night for Educator-Endorsed Candidates 

On the positive side of the ledger, several pro-public education supporters won competitive primaries with educators. We congratulate the following Texas AFT COPE-endorsed incumbent representatives on winning their hard-fought primary races:  

  • Rep. Venton Jones (D-Dallas) 
  • Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Wimberley) 
  • Rep. Christian Manuel (D-Beaumont) 
  • Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Fort Bend) 
  • Rep. Suleman Lalani (D-Fort Bend) 
  • Rep. Ray Lopez (D-San Antonio) 
  • Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston)  

Additionally, the 89th Legislature could see the return of two education champions, as former Reps. Michelle Beckley and Solomon Ortiz won their primary battles this week and will move to the November general election.  

Houston school employees, meanwhile, cheered the plurality won by Houston ISD parent Lauren Simmons, a former HFT organizer, in her challenge to sitting Rep. Shawn Thierry for the HD 146 seat. We’re also proud to see former DeSoto ISD educator and sitting State Board of Education member Aicha Davis win her primary race for HD 109 in Southwest Dallas. 

At the federal level, two exceptional Democratic candidates advanced in their primaries: state House Rep. Julie Johnson (CD-32) and Michelle Vallejo (CD-15). If she wins in November, Johnson would become the first out LGBTQ+ Texan to sit in Congress. 

Our Takeaways 

Many believe that the rightward drift of the Legislature in the upcoming 2025 session could provide an opening for Democratic or moderate Republican forces to take power in the 2026 election cycle. We’ve seen backlashes to GOP statewide control in the past with a dozen lawmakers losing their House seats in the 2018 election cycle. But with no limits on campaign spending and heavily gerrymandered districts, public education advocates find themselves frustrated but unthwarted.  

“Texas democracy cannot survive — let alone thrive — with this level of Wild West spending,” said Zeph Capo, president of Texas AFT, in response to this Tuesday’s election results. “Texans of all political stripes love their neighborhood public schools, and they believe educators deserve pay raises and smaller class sizes. With widespread layoffs at public schools across the state, vouchers are not the priority.” 

Election results at the State Board of Education also bely the state’s rightward shift in Republican primaries. Pat Hardy, a former teacher and a veteran representing District 11, which covers parts of Fort Worth, lost her seat to challenger Brandon Hall, a youth pastor who received a last-minute infusion of cash allowing him to outspend Hardy by a ratio of 9 to 1.  . A 20-year Republican member of the State Board of Education lost her party’s nomination to a challenger who promised to fight for “Christian conservative values.” Two other Republican incumbents (Tom Maynard of District 10 and Pam Little of District 12) are headed into a May 28 runoff.  

Does the state’s movement toward harsher conservative policies create a backlash among voters? Will partisan mudslinging during the 2025 legislative session open the door to more serious lawmakers coming into office during the 2026 election cycle? Educators can hope for a light at the end of the tunnel, but the pillars of democracy are cracking, especially with conservatives discussing closing primaries, making it more difficult for people to vote, and putting more and more restrictions on the teaching of truth in our classrooms.  

Texas AFT is committing to strengthening our democracy in Texas so educators can truly thrive. We hope you’ll join us as we Educate Texas over the next few months and go back to basics on civics education.