Tag Archives: School Choice Week

From The Texas Tribune: Momentum for “private school choice” in Texas fades in 2019

In 2017, top Texas lawmakers were galvanized for “private school choice.” This year, momentum has faded.

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a rally at the Capitol for school choice January 24, 2017. Both Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick spoke in favor of expanding school choice options. Students, educators, activists and parents marched on the south lawn to show their support for expanding school choice options during National School Choice Week. Photo by Laura Skelding for The Texas Tribune

In 2017, top Texas lawmakers were galvanized for “private school choice.” This year, momentum has faded.” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Two years ago, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick stood on the steps of the Texas Capitol before a throng of waving yellow scarves and urged lawmakers to vote for programs that give parents state money to attend private schools.

This Wednesday, those two top Republicans may not even attend the rally for National School Choice Week, let alone have speaking roles.

Though “school choice” supporters will still excitedly don their signature bright yellow scarves Wednesday, they will likely be fighting an uphill battle the rest of this session to get support in the Capitol.

In the months after 2017’s rally, House lawmakers unequivocally voted to reject school vouchers or similar programs that allow parents to use public money for private education. In 2018, a key election ousted some of the programs’ largest supporters, including Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, one of the loudest cheerleaders in the House. And as state Republicans tour the state making constituents a new set of education-related promises, many have swapped the words “school choice” for “school finance.”

So far, even Abbott and Patrick have rarely brought up their former pet issue without being asked directly — beyond Abbott’s routine proclamation for this year’s School Choice Week. The new House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, said last week that the House would not pass legislation approving vouchers — and that he had consistently voted no on similar bills.

“I’m not willing to say, ‘hey, this issue is dead.’ But leadership seems to be saying that, at least for this particular session,” said Monty Exter, lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, one of the biggest opponents of those programs.

The issue was politically divisive last session, with public school educators arguing it would siphon money from public schools. The Senate passed a diluted version of the bill that would allow parents of students with disabilities to pay for private school and homeschooling, with supporters arguing it would empower families to make the best educational choices for their kids. Facing resistance in the House, Senate leaders refused to approve an overhaul of the school finance system without those subsidies — forcing a stalemate.

Abbott demanded lawmakers pass both in a summer special session. Both failed to pass again.

Randan Steinhauser, who along with her husband Brendan has helped lead the fight for voucher-like programs in Texas, said both Abbott and Patrick have been invited to support the cause from the stage at Wednesday’s rally. But they aren’t scheduled to give formal speeches. Sen. Ted Cruz and Land Commissioner George P. Bush, both Republicans, are expected to speak and, she said, “having one elected official after another is not the most engaging thing for our audience.”

In 2017, Steinhauser helped start an organization called Texans for Education Opportunity, which hired about a dozen lobbyists to push the benefits of giving parents taxpayer money to use for private school tuition and homeschooling. This year, Texans for Education Opportunity has no lobbyists registered.

Steinhauser and Texans for Education Opportunity founder Stacy Hock both say they are instead focusing on organizing families to speak directly to lawmakers.

“Thankfully, we will not be doing a huge lobby effort this session,” Hock said. ‘What has become apparent to me is that the most important voice in this discussion is that of Texas families.”

Steinhauser rejects the idea that lawmakers got kicked out of office for supporting the issue.

“If that were the case, Dan Patrick would have lost. He’s the biggest champion in the state and he’s coming back for another term,” she said. “No one won or lost on the issue of school choice.”

But lawmakers appear to be putting distance between themselves and the issue, at least for the time being.

Sen. Larry Taylor, the Friendswood Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee, told a group of free-market conservatives earlier this month that school choice “is not going to be the focus this session” and “not part of the school finance bill.” That’s a far cry from 2017, when he authored the Senate’s bill for private school tuition subsidies.

But he’s not alone in his change of tone. Two years ago, sporting a yellow scarf of his own atop a navy blue suit, Patrick expressed his disappointment with the Texas House in front of thousands of students and family members from charter schools and private schools.

“We want a vote up or down in the Senate and in the House this session on school choice,” he said, amid loud cheers. “It’s easy to kill a bill when no one gets to vote on it.”

This year, when asked whether the issue would return to the Senate, Patrick was less direct: “We’ll see, we’ll see. It’s a long session.”

Disclosure: Stacy Hock and the Association of Texas Professional Educators have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2019/01/23/momentum-school-choice-vouchers-texas-fades-2019/.


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The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 5, 2016

Campaigns are heating up and the stakes are high for public education. Read more in this week’s wrap-up.

American voting pins

We’re 11 days away from the start of early voting for the March 1 primary election. Now is the time to research the candidates seeking legislative and SBOE seats in your area and share information with your friends and colleagues. The future of public education in Texas depends on high voter turnout among the education community — not only in November, but especially during the March primaries when many races will be decided.

Do you know where your candidates stand on the issues that matter to public education? From vouchers to TRS to testing, you’ll find a wealth of information about the candidates’ views right here on Teach the Vote. Simply click on 2016 Races button to search for candidates by district, last name, map, or using your address. Our candidate profiles include incumbents’ voting records, links to the candidates’ own web pages, and their responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey where available.

If you live in House District 120, you’ll have an additional chance to cast your vote this election season. Gov. Abbott has set May 7 as the election day for the special election to fill the seat recently vacated by Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio). The early voting period for this special election will be held Apr. 23 through Mar. 3.

One more reminder: Have you taken the educator’s oath to vote for pro-public education candidates this year? Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to learn more.

A congressional hearing entitled “Expanding Educational Opportunity Through School Choice” originally scheduled to take place during School Choice Week was held Wednesday in Washington, DC. Our federal relations team covered the hearing, which was postponed due to a weather system that shut down federal government buildings last week, and shared that the focus was on two main themes: (1) whether or not expanding school choice had a positive impact on low-income students, and (2) whether or not there is adequate accountability for existing school choice programs. The panel of invited testifiers consisted of three proponents of school choice and only one who testified to the risks associated with school choice programs. No other testimony was taken at the hearing.

We noted in a blog post last week that School Choice Week drew attention to some of the private school voucher and related proposals on the move around the country. The same post discusses that Texas is not immune to the push for private school vouchers and stresses the importance of educators voting in the upcoming election. As voucher proposals in Texas gain more steam, it is critical that we elect a Legislature that continues to stand in the way of those proposals ultimately passing. The upcoming primary election will determine the majority of the elected officials sent to Austin to serve in the next Texas Legislature. It is critical that voters send pro-public education candidates.

Monty Exter

Monty Exter

Related content: We reported last week that Texas voucher proponents gathered in front of the Texas Capitol last Friday to rally in support of school choice. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was interviewed by several media outlets covering the rally. Exter raised serious concerns about voucher programs and highlighted the benefits to keeping public money within the public school system. A sampling of those interviews includes this Time Warner Cable News story and this piece in the Austin American Statesman.

We previously reported on two separate community meeting series taking place across the state. The State Board of Education is hosting meetings to gather feedback on Texas’ testing and accountability systems, and the Coalition for Public Schools is hosting meetings to discuss the value of public education and how communities can get involved to support public schools. Both meeting series have been updated by the respective hosts. The changes are reflected on our original postings linked below.

Please note the following changes:CPS square logo

The Coalition for Public Schools has moved the two meetings originally scheduled for Feb. 9 in Cleburne to Tuesday, February 23. The times and locations of the meetings remain the same. View the updated schedule here.

SBOE logo
The State Board of Education community meetings originally scheduled to be held in Brownsville, Dallas/Forth Worth, and Kilgore have been updated to reflect various time, date and location changes. View the updated schedule here.