AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick listed school choice as one of his top 10 priorities for the legislative session. On Thursday, he said that the fight to pass the legislation could go beyond the regular session.
“We should not leave here this year until we pass school choice,” Patrick said to applause from the audience at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Policy Summit. “I don’t care how many special sessions it takes,” Patrick added.
Legislation to give parents more power to choose where their child attends school has vocal support this session. Both Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Patrick voiced support in their inaugural addresses. Gov. Abbott also listed school choice as one of his priority items in his State of the State address.
The State Board of Education also changed its position on school choice — voting in early February to reverse its previous stance of asking Texas lawmakers to reject school vouchers or anything that gives public funding to private schools.
In November, the Republican-majority board voted to encourage lawmakers to stay away from school voucher policies. The item was part of its legislative recommendations, calling on legislators “to reject all attempts to divert public dollars away from public schools in the form of vouchers, an education savings account, taxpayer savings grants, tuition-tax credits, a business franchise tax credit or an insurance premium tax credit, or any other mechanisms that have the effect of reducing funding to public schools.”
Since then, the board expanded its conservative majority by an extra seat. Additionally, top Republican leaders in Texas have ramped up rhetoric around school choice.
The governor said he wants to create an education savings account program, which would divert taxpayer dollars from public schools to a fund available for parents who want to send their children to a non-public school.
“School choice has become a marketing term for people who are promoting the privatization of public schools,” Mark Wiggins, senior lobbyist at the Association of Texas Professional Educators said shortly after the SBOE vote.
Wiggins said there are major accountability issues with voucher programs when it comes to how taxpayer dollars are spent.
“Every tax dollar that is spent in the state of Texas has public accountability attached to it —they’re in public school districts that have elected school boards to oversee how that money is spent,” he said. “And private schools, voucher schools, they don’t have that. That would be tax dollars going into a black hole with no accountability, no transparency whatsoever.”
Patrick says school choice is fundamental to the future of Texas. “Parents deserve that parental right to make that choice for their child,” he told the audience at Thursday’s event. And he vowed to continue the fight for as long as it takes.
“We got time,” he said, referencing the potential for one or more special sessions. “I don’t have any plans this summer.”