Stop Trying to Make School Vouchers Happen

Abbott brings the Lege back hoping to eviscerate public school funding

Gov. Abbott has called a special session to, he hopes, make vouchers happen (Photo by Getty Images / Jana Birchum / Maggie Q. Thompson)

Here we go again. Texas Republicans will be back at the State Capitol on Monday in Gov. Greg Abbott’s continuing quest to eviscerate the state’s public school funding and, while he’s at it, Speaker of the House Dade Phelan.

Abbott is calling for lawmakers to approve a deeply unpopular scheme that he calls “education savings accounts,” but which everyone else calls vouchers. Vouchers would allow parents to take money from public schools to pay for private religious school expenses. It’s the same proposal he badgered the legislature to approve during the regular legislative session this spring, but that was shot down by rural Republicans in the House. In his call, the governor will also allow legislators to take up border security measures and COVID-19 restrictions. What won’t be considered, educators noted, are desperately needed increases in school funding and teacher pay.

“There are schools in my district and all across Texas at risk of closure because the governor is holding public school funding hostage to pass his private-school voucher scam,” Rep. James Talarico, co-chair of the House’s Special Committee on Education said on Thursday. “It’s clear Greg Abbott is more interested in doing the bidding of the billionaire mega-donors pushing this scam than in serving the people of Texas. But I remain hopeful the bipartisan pro-public education majority in the Texas House will stay strong.”

The “billionaire mega-donors” who Talarico refers to are, among others, Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, lay preachers and Republican financiers who have stoked extremism in Texas for the last decade. Dunn and Wilks have funded efforts to weaken public schools through a variety of organizations, are believed to have paid for Attorney General Ken Paxton’s legal bills during his recent impeachment fight, and have promised to fund primary challengers to Phelan and the other Republicans who voted to impeach Paxton in the House.

Many have explained that rural Republicans don’t like vouchers because public schools, which would be weakened by the proposal, serve as major employers in small towns and serve as important hubs of the community. However, these same Republicans who voted against vouchers this spring are likely to be targeted by Dunn and Wilks in their upcoming re-election contests, because many also voted for Paxton’s impeachment. So as important as public education is to cities and towns across the state, the upcoming voucher battle will be about more than that. As public school advocate Chris Tackett said after Abbott announced the special session, “Vouchers aren’t about kids. They’re about money, religion, and race.”

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