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Texas Board of Education drops opposition to school vouchers

Members of the Texas State Board of Education pose for a photo with Gov. Greg Abbott on February 3, 2023 after being sworn in for a new term.
Texas State Board of Education livestream
Members of the Texas State Board of Education pose for a photo with Gov. Greg Abbott on February 3, 2023 after being sworn in for a new term.

Republican leaders in Texas have scored a new win: they have successfully pushed the Texas State Board of Education to no longer oppose using public funds toward private education.

The board voted 8-5 on Friday to officially drop their legislative priority to oppose such efforts — referred to as “school choice” by supporters.

The vote comes a day after the board, which is in charge of creating policies for Texas public schools, made the official recommendation to change its stance.

Board Chair Keven Ellis, R-Lufkin, said Thursday night the decision should not be considered a signal in support of school vouchers either.

“There’s going to be a very rich and robust debate over this in the Legislature,” Ellis told board members. “And because of that, I felt it was appropriate to reconsider this item to potentially pull this off of our agenda.”

The original legislative agenda, approved in November, said the Board “calls on the Texas Legislature to reject all attempts to divert public dollars away from public schools in the form of vouchers, an education savings account, taxpayer savings grants, tuition-tax credits, a business franchise tax credit or an insurance premium tax credit, or any other mechanisms that have the effect of reducing funding to public schools.”

Board member LJ Francis, R-Corpus Christi, said on Thursday he’s heard from a lot of parents who have told him they want to have more control over their kids’ schooling.

“It’s not a bifurcation,” Francis said. “It doesn’t mean that if you support one thing you necessarily are enemies of public education.”

The decision comes a few days after Gov. Greg Abbott spoke at an event in Corpus Christi and called for the creation of an education savings account program.

This would allow parents to use taxpayer dollars to enroll qualifying students in private schools.

One bill, introduced by state Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Galveston, has been filed in the Texas Legislature for the implementation of such a program.

The State Board of Education’s Friday decision to change their legislative agenda is somewhat surprising.

In November of last year, the Republican-controlled Board overwhelmingly voted to reject “school choice” proposals.

Board member Aicha Davis, D-Dallas, implied the change came after pressure from Gov. Abbott.

“We had a lot of brave folks from both sides of the aisle who made a pledge to support our public schools,” Davis said Thursday night. “So, I’m just wondering what happened between now and November besides pressure from the governor to change perspectives on wanting to make sure our public schools are supported?”

Davis said the implementation of education savings accounts would take away money from the school districts and charter schools.

Meanwhile, board member Rebecca Bell-Metereau, D-San Marcos, questioned the board’s “timid” support of public education.

“If we're only going to suggest what we think is going to win favor with the legislature or the governor, why don’t we just wait for them to tell us what to do?”

Copyright 2023 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.