Texas prepares for showdown over school choice bill: Teacher unions 'Fighting to the death' to keep 'control'

Teachers unions, Democrats and some Republicans in Texas have opposed school choice measures

As the battle over whether to expand school choice heats up in Texas, advocates and opponents have sharply different views on who would benefit from these voucher programs.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, R., has traveled across the state rallying support for school voucher programs. The state senate passed its school choice bill last month, which Abbott says would make 5.5 million students in Texas eligible to use taxpayer dollars to go to the school of their choice through an education savings account. SB 8 would provide families with $8,000 per student to use on approved private school tuition.

"Empowering parents to choose the best educational path for their child remains an essential priority this session. A majority of Texans from across the state and from all backgrounds support expanding school choice," he said in a press release Sunday. However, a substitute bill in the House faces opposition from Democrats and rural Republicans who have joined efforts to stop it. Abbott said he would veto a watered-down version of the bill which lawmakers returned over the weekend, which he said cut the number of students who would be eligible for the savings accounts to 800,000.

placeholderTeachers unions also remain staunchly opposed to school choice bills in the state saying these programs take away essential funds from public schools and only benefits wealthy families.


A photo of Governor Abbott

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said school choice is an ‘essential priority’ for the state this legislative session. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

The Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers calls the school choice movement a "scam" which "eliminates transparency and public accountability." The labor union told Fox News Digital that vouchers only benefit the wealthy who are already sending their children to private schools and hurts "underfunded" public schools.

"When vouchers strip more money away from our already strapped neighborhood schools, the only people who will benefit are the richest parents, who are already sending their children to private schools. For everyone else, vouchers will crowd classrooms and put every member of the school community who keep the hubs of our communities running on the chopping block. And it’s the hardest hit, and often more rural communities, that get left further and further behind," the Texas AFT wrote in a blog post.

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, Chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, slammed school choice proposals as an "a la carte" way of spending.

"We cannot write a budget that's going to take the wants and the needs and the select items that people think is worth investing in. We're investing in our entire state," he told Fox 7 Austin.

Texas Capitol building dome with the Texas flag waving in front.

Texas lawmakers are fighting over school choice. (Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images)


placeholderHowever, a Texas school choice advocate told Fox News Digital that vouchers were a great equalizer which would benefit all families and was supported by voters across the political spectrum.

"I do believe that the legislature is getting the picture that regardless of what your vote is in elections, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum. Parents should be in charge. Parents should be empowered. And school choice is a winning decision for any elected official," Mandy Drogin, Campaign Director for Next Generation Texas told Fox News Digital.

She cited a Real Clear Politics poll from last year which found nearly three-quarters of voters supported school choice, including 68% of Democrats and 67% of Independents. Additionally, she said 88% of Texas Republican voters supported school choice in last year's primaries.

The school choice advocate said that teachers unions' concerns shouldn't outweigh what parents and voters want in the Lone Star state.

photo of Mandy Drogin

Mandy Drogin, Campaign Director for Next Generation Texas and school choice advocate spoke with Fox News Digital about Texas' fight to expand school choice.  (Texas Public Policy Foundation)

"Putting the hands back in the hands of parents is universally supported. The only people standing in the way of this are special interests that benefit financially from a monopolistic system where the parents don't have the ultimate control or that administrators and a bureaucracy does… We are going to continue to advocate that every parent, regardless of their zip code, regardless of the street, they live on, the money in their bank account, the color of their skin, the number of kids they have. Whatever it is, parents should be the ultimate decision maker on where their child gets an education," she said.

While opponents say vouchers would take away money from public schools, Gov. Abbott argued school choice makes public schools perform better. "Wherever school choice is used, public education improves," he claimed at a rally last March.

Drogin believed teachers' unions opposed vouchers because they wanted to "control" where taxpayer dollars were being spent.

"They are fighting to death to maintain that control. That's what they want," she insisted.

The school choice movement has achieved several high-profile successes in the past year. GOP-led states are passing school choice bills across the nation. In March, Florida became the fourth state this year to pass universal school choice, making every K-12 student eligible for education savings accounts.

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