On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott appeared on a tele town hall event with the right-wing advocacy group Texas Public Policy Foundation, during which he confirmed he would call at least one special session — and possibly more — on “school choice” in October.
In his remarks, Abbott professed that he has seen a “hunger” for private school vouchers in his travels across the state. That’s of little surprise, as his barnstorming tour focused almost exclusively on visits to private religious schools.
The results from Texas AFT’s most recent survey on legislative topics once again say otherwise. Among the 3,452 K-12 and higher education employees who responded to the survey, the response on vouchers is nearly unanimous in the opposite direction: 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.
Regardless of political party, Texas teachers and school staff agree that vouchers pose an existential threat to their schools and to their students. Nearly 84% of Republican educators surveyed voiced concerns about vouchers, along with 93% of Democratic educators and 89% of Independent educators.
“Most Texans want basic, foundational things for our schools, like a friendly bus driver to take their kids safely to school every day or the guarantee that their child’s school has a full-time nurse on campus,” said Zeph Capo, president of Texas AFT. “What they don’t want is a tax break for every billionaire who opens up a private Zoom school or wealthy family who’s been sending their kids to private schools for generations.”
“Pushing private school vouchers isn’t about what’s right for Texas. It’s about what’s right for our governor’s political ambitions and his high-dollar donors,” Capo said. “Greg Abbott is fiddling while Texas public schools burn.”
Listening to Educators: More Survey Findings
Along with the voucher question, the survey asked participants about several other key public education issues from the 88th Legislature:
- Retaining educators: 79% of K-12 school employees gave the Legislature a failing grade on retaining qualified educators, along with 78% of higher education employees.
- Public school funding: 81% of K-12 employees said the Legislature did a terrible job, noting the lack of a basic allotment increase will be to their school district’s detriment.
- Higher education: 76% of higher education employees said they were concerned the passage of SB 17, which bans diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at Texas universities, will have a negative impact on their campus. 77% said the same of SB 18, which limits the employment protections of academic tenure.
- Special session priorities: K-12 survey respondents were asked to rank which bills that did not garner a committee hearing would be most important to them in a special session on education: 42% said a bill to reduce required state standardized testing, 23% said a bill to close loopholes that allow class sizes above legal limits, and 21% said a bill to reduce paperwork and workload requirements.
As readers of the Hotline know, the regular session of the 88th Legislature ended without an increase to the basic allotment that funds public education in Texas; that allotment has been stagnant since 2019 and would need to be raised by about $1,000 per student just to make up for inflation.
The session also ended without action on most of the recommendations in the state’s Teacher Vacancy Task Force report, released earlier this year.
Instead, Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Senate allies relentlessly pursued an expensive taxpayer-funded voucher package, which also did not pass.
Vouchers Call to Action
The purpose of this week’s Texas Public Policy Foundation town hall was to announce the governor’s next big voucher push: “School Choice Sunday” on Oct. 15. In fact, pastors on the call were exhorted to use their pulpits to advocate for privatization leading up to that day of action.
Given this — and Abbott’s continued characterization of public schools as radical sites of indoctrination with a “woke agenda” — it is crucial that the 89% of educators worried about the effect of vouchers on our public schools speak out.
Fortunately, Texas AFT and partner organizations have several opportunities for you to do so in coming weeks:
San Antonio Public Education Town Hall
Sunday, Sept. 24, 2 p.m. CT
Join Texas AFT, San Antonio Alliance, Bexar County AFT, and Northside AFT for a Public Education Town Hall with our San Antonio state legislators on September 24th from 2pm-4pm. Click here to RSVP.
Boot Vouchers Rally
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.