Thousands rally at the State Capitol for school choice Wednesday

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A divisive issue takes the spotlight at the State Capitol Wednesday as groups discuss whether or not tax money should be allocated to help educate children in private schools or who are home-schooled. 

The throngs in Austin join a nation-wide movement for School Choice Week.

However, the issue is not just a Republicans versus Democrats fight. It’s also a battle within the Republican Party. 

“The ground has not changed fundamentally in favor of more school choice bills so I think there’s an uphill battle this session for advocates to make a lot of progress,” said Jim Henson of the Texas Politics Project.

Rural Republicans in the House teamed up with Democrats during the last Legislative Session to kill a school choice bill. The bill would have created two new state programs, providing subsidies for private school tuition.

For Republicans against the issue, the biggest concern was where the money would be going. Some were concerned a big chunk of public educational funds would be pumped into private school tuition instead of local public classrooms.

Despite new leadership in the House of Representatives, with Speaker Dennis Bonnen, experts believe old battle lines remain.

“Republicans at large are very divided on this and the school choice advocates, if you look at (Texas Politics Project) polling, don’t seem to be gaining any ground,” said Henson.

Speaker Bonnen said recently at a Texas Tribune event that school choice advocates don’t have the votes.

“School choice advocates are looking for a place they can gain a toehold, like special education,” Henson said. “Special education funding in the public schools has been controversial, the argument is that the public school system is not responding adequately to special needs kids, and so I would expect that’s one area where we will see a lot of action.”

However, Henson believes school finance will dominate the discussion in this session. “Just the fact that you’re focusing on school finance and the search for funds and dollars to go into education at large if there’s any extra money I think right now you have to expect that’s going to be put through public education,” he said. 

He added a big part of that will be focused on the state’s current recapture system.

“That’s the big question, can the recapture system, commonly known as Robin Hood, be altered or fundamentally changed in a way that accommodates or fixes some of the ways that program has grown and affect the districts in ways that’s very different from it was probably originally envisioned in the plan,” he said. 

Yet, that’s not going to stop thousands of Texans though from attending Wednesday’s rally. At present, more than a dozen states have implemented a voucher system. 

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