Unmasking Vouchers: Texas Public Policy Foundation

Last week, we explored the dark money funding the Texas Federation for Children in our ongoing series unmasking the forces pushing private school vouchers in Texas. 

There were multiple connections between the Texas Federation for Children and the current and former board members of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a well-known conservative think-tank and policy advocacy organization active in the Texas Legislature.

During a phone call hosted by TPPF on Tuesday, Sept. 19, with Gov. Greg Abbott and right-wing Christian “faith leaders,” the governor reminded Texans about the real agenda behind “school choice” and the central role being played by organizations like TPPF.

Abbott reiterated his usual pro-voucher talking points and included some heightened Christian nationalist rhetoric. His remarks followed the familiar playbook of running a false smear campaign against public schools, accusing educators and public schools of “indoctrinating” students, and then capitalizing on the manufactured dissatisfaction by providing “alternatives” for families in the form of privatization and vouchers.

Abbott’s remarks this week are just the latest in a series of similar statements by the governor and others meant to advance the cause of vouchers using political pressure, threats, and fear, all based in disrespectful and false characterizations of public education, professional educators, and families’ support for public schools. 

Abbott has been visiting private Christian schools for the past year delivering similar speeches, but this is important to note: TPPF has sponsored Abbott’s statewide campaign of appearances across Texas in support of taxpayer-funded private school vouchers because dismantling public education has evolved into one of the organization’s guiding principles. The fundraising letter from then-TPPF CEO and now board member Kevin Roberts in 2021 pictured above speaks volumes regarding the motivations behind and the strength of the organization’s commitment to privatization and vouchers.

Political journalist Christopher Tackett joined Texas AFT via Zoom for our Unpacking the 88th Legislature: Schools in Crisis session Wednesday, Sept. 20, during which he presented on the connections between:

  • dark money in Texas public education 
  • the private school voucher movement and its legacy of racism 
  • Christian nationalism
  • and the role played by organizations like TPPF 

Tackett discussed how money flows from billionaires inside and outside of Texas to organizations involved in weakening public education with the shared mission of privatization. 

TPPF and its board members are closely involved in this web of dark money seeking to influence Texas public education. In fact, several of TPPF’s current and former board members have shown up as major donors across the web of dark money as we’ve explored Tackett’s analysis the past few weeks:

  • *Douglas Deason
  • *Tim Dunn (Vice Chairman)
  • *Windi Grimes
  • *Alan Hassenflu
  • *Stacy Hock
  • *Dr. James Leininger
  • Senator Mayes Middleton
  • John Nau
  • *Kevin Roberts, Ph. D.
  • Jeff Sandefer
  • Senator Kevin Sparks
  • *Kyle Stallings

* current TPPF board members

Tackett’s research has been invaluable for shining a light on how privatization is really about power and money, and how some of the most aggressive proponents of vouchers have an extreme ideological agenda regarding the future of public education. The private school voucher movement is not about helping students or empowering families but destroying public education.

In his remarks Tuesday, Abbott presented legislators with an ultimatum on vouchers: either legislators can choose to “take the easy way out” and pass expansive voucher legislation in an upcoming October special session or expect to face a primary challenge supported by the governor.

This statewide voucher campaign — a series of staged sales pitches, scarcely attended except for the media presence — does not represent a grassroots swell of interest in vouchers. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, Abbott’s visits to private Christian schools across Texas, targeted at certain rural Republican legislative districts, have been a hallmark of the coordinated, well-funded push for private school vouchers by individuals and organizations captured in Tackett’s analysis of dark money in public education. 

The individuals and organizations we have identified the past few weeks will be directly responsible for supporting primary challenges of pro-public education legislators who oppose vouchers in the upcoming special session.

Thank you to the Texas legislators who continue to listen to their communities and represent their districts by rejecting the threat of vouchers rather than giving in to the influence of billionaires, cynical politicians, and extreme ideological organizations like TPPF.