Latest election changes ‘school choice’ possibilities


AUSTIN (KXAN) — This week, education reform advocates will again push to change Texas law.

Hundreds are expected to march on the Texas State Capitol Wednesday for ‘School Choice Week’. 

Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Assistant U.S. Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education Frank Brogan, and Sen. Ted Cruz are expected to speak at the rally.

Emily Sass will be one of hundreds in front of the capitol wearing yellow scarves.

“It’s the optimistic color. It reminds us that we’re all in this together,” said Sass, an education policy analyst for the Texas Public Policy Foundation  — a conservative think tank in Austin. She describes ‘school choice’ as a spectrum of ideas.

She hopes lawmakers streamline the application process for Charter Schools and help fund and encourage online or virtual classes within public schools.

“It’s just about families and parents the power to do what’s right for their kid,” said Sass.

The road to change looks rocky after Democrats and public school-focused lawmakers made large strides in the 2018 November elections over education reform advocates.

Historically, the Texas House has opposed policy proposals seen as taking resources away from public schools: vouchers, education savings accounts, or tax-credit scholarships. 

At a Texas Tribune event last week, the new Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, voiced his opposition.

When asked if he would support vouchers, public dollars to private and home schools, he said, “No.”

“I’m not going to force my position on the House but it is very clear there is nowhere near the votes for vouchers,” said Rep. Bonnen, going on to describe his past of opposition. He told the crowd he was one of two Republicans to vote no on the idea in 1997.

“I was told I’d never be back.” he said, “I haven’t voted differently ever since.” 

KXAN has reached out to the leader of the Texas Senate — and historically strong supporters of ‘school choice’ efforts — Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Governor Greg Abbott, and await their responses. 

In 2017, Abbott put ‘school choice’ for special needs on a special session call. The idea would have used tax dollars to help needy families go to private school.

Last session, Patrick was one of the major backers of that idea, going as far as saying there would be no school finance reform without school choice reform. When asked about the bill passing in the Senate, Patrick responded, “We’ll see. It’s a long session.”

Sass holds out hope that the ‘school choice’ movement will take a step forward when lawmakers tinker with the public school finance system this legislative session.

“I think school choice is a part of that,” said Sass.

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