For years, Texas Republicans’ avowed support for school choice has been hypothetical at best and dishonest at worst. Gov. Greg Abbott has the chance to change that.
On Monday night, Abbott came out strongly in support of a school voucher plan, offering what has been his clearest position yet on whether families should be locked into their government-assigned public school districts or whether they should be allowed to take their taxpayer dollars elsewhere.
“We can fully fund public schools while also giving parents a choice about which school is right for their child,” Abbott said during a campaign event, adding that the policy is linked to parents’ rights. “Empowering parents means giving them the choice to send their children to any public school, charter school, or private school with state funding following the student.”
This is a welcome policy shift from Abbott, who has heretofore shied away from endorsing the many school choice legislative efforts state Republicans have tried to pass. He even threw his support behind a number of Republican candidates who are openly opposed to school choice policies, including Justin Berry, who won the backing of leftist teachers unions by vowing to oppose the expansion of charter schools.
However, Abbott will need to do more than shift his tone on this issue. He will need to act, which could prove challenging given the number of times Texas Republicans have introduced school choice bills only for members of their own party to kill them. If this time is to be any different, Abbott will need to make it clear to state Republicans like Berry that school choice reform is a non-negotiable priority.
The education of Texas’s students depends on it. Right now, proficiency rates and test scores are plummeting across the state. Just one-quarter of Texas eighth graders, for example, are proficient in reading. And among elementary schoolers, the number of students who did not meet state standards in mathematics increased from 21% to 37% just last year. Giving families the power to leave the school districts that are failing these students is one of the best ways to improve those numbers and ensure that every child is given the chance to succeed.
Abbott has a choice: He can take charge on this issue and make sure school choice reform happens, or he can leave parents with the same empty promise that Texas Republicans have been selling to them for years. Hopefully, he proves himself to be different.