School Choice Faces Rural Backlash In Texas

Written by Jack Elbaum

What’s happening: The Texas legislature began a special session this week to try and join ten other states that passed school choice legislation in 2023. Specifically, Gov. Greg Abbott hopes to implement school vouchers, which allow parents to use government money to pay for private school tuition.

Catch up: During this year's regular legislative session, the Texas State Senate passed a school choice bill, but no deal could be reached in the Texas House despite it being GOP-controlled.

  • Why? Democrats and rural Republicans teamed up to defeat the plan, fearing it would reduce funding for public schools. In rural areas, public schools often serve as a major employer and a key community institution.

  • Unacceptable: Gov. Greg Abbott is determined to get it passed, saying, “There’s an easy way to get it done, and there’s a hard way. We will take it either way—in a special session or after an election,” implying that non-compliant members will be voted out.

It’s popular nationwide: Polls show 72 percent of voters support school choice, including majorities of both Democrats and Republicans, as well as majorities of several ethnic groups. But this might not reflect the specific interests of legislators’ constituents.

Why it matters: After record drops in math and reading proficiency due to COVID-19 school closures, as well as growing concern over the progressive tilt in public school curriculum, states are looking for ways to improve educational outcomes. Moving beyond the traditional public school monopoly is one way of doing that.

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