Month: <span>March 2024</span>

A wake-up call for voters who truly value their public schools

School voucher advocates are already proclaiming victory when the new Texas Legislature meets next year, and with six anti-voucher Republican House members unseated in last week’s primary and four others headed to a runoff, it is clear the fight against vouchers – although not over — has become more difficult.

What is not so clear is whether vouchers had much to do with the election results. It seems more likely many anti-voucher voters were misled by millions of dollars’ worth of lies.

Gov. Greg Abbott and his school privatization allies mounted aggressive campaigns against the Republicans who helped kill last year’s voucher plan, but they didn’t openly make vouchers an issue. Instead, they used attack ads to spread falsehoods accusing targeted lawmakers of being soft on border security and killing a bill that would have increased funding for public schools and raised teacher pay.

The lies worked, even though the targeted Republicans voted for all the border security initiatives that Abbott demanded and would have voted for more funding for public education if Abbott had given them the chance. Instead, the funding bill was lost because the governor made clear he would veto it if he didn’t win a voucher plan for spending millions of dollars on private schools.

Abbott let the budget bill die during last year’s critical final special session after the legislators he attacked had removed vouchers from the measure. As a result of Abbott’s pique, many school districts are cutting budgets and operating with deficits, even though the state had a $33 billion budget surplus.

Abbott vowed to unseat the lawmakers because they voted against vouchers, but he and his allies dared not attack them head-on over vouchers because of long-standing opposition to vouchers among the legislators’ mostly rural constituents.

Voucher advocates claim that the large margin with which a non-binding referendum backing vouchers was approved in last week’s Republican primary is further proof voucher opposition is dwindling among rural Republicans, but it’s all in the wording.

The ballot proposition read: “Texas parents and guardians should have the right to select schools, whether public or private, for their children, and the funding should follow the student.”

Something more to the point, such as “Do you support taking hundreds of millions of your tax dollars from your public schools and sending them to unregulated private schools?”, would have had a much different response.

Some of Abbott’s voucher targets also were targeted by Attorney General Ken Paxton and his right-wing billionaire supporters for voting for Paxton’s impeachment.

It will be a while before we find out if the pro-voucher celebration is premature. Four of the anti-voucher legislators will be in a runoff in May, and many of the GOP primary victors will face Democratic opposition in November. If the anti-voucher Republicans who voted against their like-minded state representatives in the primary figure out the governor’s game, and if the anti-voucher Republicans who stayed home last week vote against vouchers in November, anti-voucher Democrats may be able to pick off a few pro-voucher Republicans, although Texas’ political maps make that a difficult proposition.

The public school district is at the heart – and is often the biggest employer – in many rural communities, and vouchers could eventually destroy some of the smaller school districts – which are already underfunded — or force consolidation among districts.

Voters in most of those communities are overwhelmingly Republican. But if last week’s results in their party primary aren’t a wake-up call for voters who truly value their public schools, I don’t know what is.

Clay Robison