If the past two years of school closures, toxic racialism, and radical gender ideology have taught us anything, it’s that parents must be given the power to hold the public education system accountable and leave it if they so choose. But what will it take for Republicans, many of whom claim to champion families and parental rights, to make this a legislative priority?
In Texas, the answer is simple: It’s going to take new leadership.
Despite the party’s repeated pledge to pass school choice reforms, Texas Republican lawmakers, especially those in the House, have thwarted numerous attempts to turn this policy into law. In 2013, the Republican-controlled state Legislature refused to touch several private school choice bills that had been introduced. Two years later, the Republican-controlled House failed to pass a tax credit scholarship program that had been approved by the Senate and left it to die in a committee. When the program was later added as an amendment to a school financing bill, House Republicans made sure to kill that bill too.
In 2017, when the state Senate passed a bill creating education savings accounts for parents across the state, the House once again ensured that it went nowhere. And just last year, the Texas House passed an amendment to the 2021 state budget that prohibited state funds from being used to “pay for or support a school voucher, education savings account, or tax credit scholarship program, or a similar program through which a child may use state money for nonpublic primary or secondary education.”
The most frustrating part of Texas House Republicans’ opposition to school choice reforms is that it runs contrary to the Texas GOP’s stated goals and voters’ wishes. The Texas Republican Party has said for years that comprehensive school choice is one of its legislative priorities, and Republican voters have confirmed that they overwhelmingly support giving parents more options. So why are state lawmakers who claim to represent the Texas GOP and its constituents deliberately thwarting these reforms?
Because that’s what they’re being paid to do.
Texas teachers’ unions have been lining state Republicans’ pockets for years, pouring thousands of dollars into their campaigns through political action committees. Just this past year, the Association of Texas Professional Educators, Texas Classroom Teachers Association, and the Texas State Teachers Association donated a total of $83,500 to 23 Republican candidates in state Legislature and state school board elections. Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan has openly bragged about earning the teachers’ unions’ endorsement. Justin Berry, Barron Casteel, and state Reps. Glenn Rogers and Kyle Kacal, each of whom is running for the state Legislature this year, have been endorsed by the teachers’ unions.
Berry, specifically, has vowed to oppose the expansion of charter schools, which are independently operated public schools, and has said Texas needs to ”make sure that we’re keeping our tax dollars for our public schools in our public school systems.” Casteel has received $19,500 from teachers union groups and school choice opponents over the past couple of years, and Kacal has received $17,000.
The obvious course of action for Texas Republican leadership would be to rebuke these lawmakers and demand that they get on board with the party’s platform or find a new job. Instead, Gov. Greg Abbott has endorsed them:
Surely, Abbott, who said he wants to pass a new “Parental Bill of Rights” this year, understands that lawmakers such as Berry and Phelan will continue to undermine a key part of his party’s agenda as long as they are in office.
But maybe that’s the point. Abbott has, after all, remained noticeably quiet on every one of the school choice bills passed by the state Senate, and he failed to include school choice expansion in his proposed “Parental Bill of Rights.” That doesn’t seem like a coincidence.
If the Texas GOP is serious about expanding education access and improving the overall quality of the state’s education system, it needs to find better leaders. Because on this issue, too many Texas Republicans are acting like Democrats — or, even worse, teachers union lobbyists, who will gladly turn a blind eye to the failings of the public school system so long as the checks have enough zeros.