AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Gov. Greg Abbott hosted a rally for “parental empowerment” at the Texas Capitol on Tuesday, advocating for his plan to subsidize private education in front of supporters his team bussed to Austin.
Senate Bill 8 is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. That legislation, which the governor dubs the “parental bill of rights,” would create education savings accounts the state would fund with $8,000 per eligible family to send their children to private or home school.
Gov. Abbott said Texas would increase funding for public education this session while also lambasting unspecified policies in public schools he argued hurt transparency and teach harmful material.
“Our children are being taught a radical, woke agenda,” Abbott told the crowd. “Listen, there’s no reason why any student should have a woke agenda pushed on them. Our schools are for education, not indoctrination.”
Supporters with children in both private and public schools echoed those concerns after his speech. Their worries stemmed from conservative arguments that schools are “indoctrinating” students with liberal ideologies or “critical race theory,” which is an advanced legal framework to examine the role of race in society and is not present in Texas’ K-12 curriculum.
The plan for “school choice,” or “school vouchers,” as opponents call it, faces near-unanimous opposition from Democrats in the legislature. It also faces opposition from many Republicans, who worry the plan could siphon money from rural school districts that do not have private alternatives.
“If it’s taking public education dollars and giving to private entities, and not having that same level of accountability and that same level of transparency, then I’m completely 100% against it,” Bartlett ISD Superintendent Teddy Clevenger said.
Bartlett ISD is a small district serving just about 500 students on the border of Bell and Williamson Counties. They worry they will feel the loss of one student disproportionately more than larger school districts, because they have far less funding to start.
“You’re losing kids, you’re losing funding. And that definitely spells disaster for public education,” he said.
Other rural districts echo similar concerns.
Adam Ivy, Superintendent of Thorndale ISD, said he would support a voucher program if private schools are held to the same accountability standards as public schools.
Thrall ISD Superintendent Tommy Hooker argued their allowance of transfers within the district provides ample choice to their students.
Senate Bill 8 aims to alleviate their concerns by allocating $10,000 to small school districts for each student that leaves for the first two years after they leave. Gov. Abbott and Sen. Brandon Creighton, the bill’s author, point out the money to fund education savings accounts does not come out of the public education budget. Both maintain the legislature will only increase public education funding this session.