Is Gov. Abbott’s education commissioner using existing law to support a secret voucher plan?

Among many reasons for voting for Beto O’Rourke for governor is O’Rourke’s firm opposition to vouchers and Greg Abbott’s intention to make vouchers a priority for next year’s legislative session. According to a Texas Monthly article, however, Abbott’s state education commissioner may have endorsed a secret plan to bypass the Legislature and encourage school districts to create their own vouchers now.

The idea is to use an existing law, SB1882, enacted in 2017, which gives school districts additional state funding if they form partnerships with outside entities, including charter schools, to take control of struggling campuses.

Texas Monthly writer Forrest Wilder identified one of the authors of the plan as Aaron Harris, a Fort Worth-based Republican consultant who apparently has spent more time spreading lies about voter fraud than learning anything about educating kids. Nevertheless, he cofounded a nonprofit called the Texans for Education Rights Institute with Monty Bennett, a dabbler in “education reform,” who in real life is a wealthy Dallas hotelier.

They made a confidential proposal to Wimberley ISD in Central Texas for a SB1882 partnership between the district and their Texans for Education Rights Institute to create a charter school tentatively called the Texas Achievement Campus, even though there were no plans to create a real campus.

Instead, Texans for Education Rights would work with Responsive Education Solutions, a charter school chain based in Lewisville, near Dallas, to place public school students from around the state into private schools of their choice at “no cost to their families.” The children would be counted as Wimberley ISD students enrolled at the non-existent Achievement Campus, but the extra tax dollars awarded to the district for its additional “attendance” would be redirected to private schools throughout Texas.

According to Texas Monthly’s reporting, state Education Commissioner Mike Morath, Abbott’s appointee, knew about the plan and would have supported Texas Education Agency staff providing “technical support” to Wimberley ISD at no cost to the district. TEA also reportedly raised some “challenges,” including the question of how the school district would “ensure private schools serving (Wimberley ISD) students outside the community” were following state-mandated curriculum.

After intense lobbying by the plan’s supporters, the Wimberley school board voted 4-2 in early August to scrap the proposal, although one board member who supported the plan reportedly claimed, “TEA is 100 percent supportive of the program.”

The pro-voucher group also is believed to be pitching the same idea to other school districts.

“I’m not accusing anyone of laundering money, by the legal definition, but there sure are a lot of hands touching a lot of money in this,” Alief ISD Supt. H.D. Chambers told Texas Monthly. “It’s a Trojan Horse for vouchers.”

Inside the secret plan to bring private school vouchers to Texas

Clay Robison


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