AUSTIN (Nexstar) – “We’re gearing up to advance one of the most conservative sessions in Texas History,” Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, announced at January’s inauguration ceremony. The line from his speech introducing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick drew applause from the audience outside the Capitol.
Since that January day, Creighton has been on the front line of several battles over priority legislation for conservatives. He chairs the Senate Education Committee and authored Senate Bill 8, which would create Education Savings Accounts. The plan to allow parents to use public dollars to go toward private education is a key issue for both Gov. Greg Abbott and Patrick.
Creighton also authored bills to end tenure at public universities, as well as a measure to require those institutions to eliminate Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) offices.
This week, Patrick named Creighton as one of the Senate members who will serve on the budget conference committee. That committee will work to resolve differences between the two budget bills passed in both the House and Senate. The committee consists of five members from the House and five from the Senate.
Creighton spoke about his work this session in a one-on-one interview for the State of Texas politics program. The interview started with a discussion of the floor debate before Senators passed his bill to eliminate DEI offices at public universities.
Monica Madden: The debate on the bill got heated at times. We just heard from Senator West who said he didn’t feel as though you and your other Republican colleagues were listening to persons of color in the legislature and their concerns on this issue. How are you addressing that?
Sen. Brandon Creighton: We have great respect for Senator West. We had a long seven-hour debate on the Senate floor for the Diversity Equity and Inclusion legislation. Personally, I feel like the committee process was very thorough. Senator West was in the Subcommittee on Higher Education to vet the legislation. He was also in the larger at large Senate Education Committee when the legislation came through, was very active in committee with the witnesses, many, many conversations related to the bill.
Monica Madden: So when he said that, you know, people of color know best on these issues of inclusion, do you disagree with that sentiment?
Sen. Brandon Creighton: I don’t disagree with that sentiment. I think that it is a little bit of a narrow sentiment because the assumption is that people of color weren’t for the bill.
Monica Madden: We talked about DEI programs and how in the original format they were formed to create more opportunities. But you said that, you know, these aren’t working as-is and you mentioned the Baylor study a couple times on the floor. Why do you think that eliminating these programs is the best path forward toward a more inclusive environment on college campuses?
Sen. Brandon Creighton: Well, the case I presented in hearings, and also through so many hours of debate on the Senate floor, it clearly showed just irrefutably showed that DEI is not working for minority faculty recruitment. Over the last 10 years, there have just been dismal results. The DEI units and programs have been somewhat weaponized with these loyalty oaths or required diversity statements, that has a chilling effect on those that feel comfortable applying in general. Maybe they don’t agree with the political ideology that’s exhibited through those required oaths. That’s the same thing that we’re seeing in California. We’re seeing it among Texas universities, that is compelled speech, right? When you have compelled speech, you do not have free speech. And if you don’t have free speech, you have exclusivity. And if you’re being exclusive DEI falls.
Monica Madden: Do you think there’s something that the Senate you know if this bill does become law should put into place for alternatives for still making sure that you know, we’re meeting those goals but you said you are for?
Sen. Brandon Creighton: You know, Texas Women’s University is an example, one of the most diverse universities in the state does not have a university-sanctioned for faculty-driven DEI department, yet they’re accomplishing incredible diversity. I think that the DEI departments, and those particular units, are not defining the overall mission of seeking diversity for our Texas universities. And I think we’ll be more successful without them.
Monica Madden: Senator, you’ve also been leading the front carrying a bill on a priority of both the Lieutenant Governor and the Governor. That is the education savings account, which for our viewers who might not be familiar, that is, you know, public allocating public dollars to families who want to send their children to private school. You know, talk a little bit about some of how you’ve been addressing some of the concerns from your colleagues from rural districts. Rural Republicans have said that they are concerned about this because some of them don’t even have private schools in their area. So how are we making sure that this is applicable to anyone?
Sen. Brandon Creighton: You know, for school choice, and parental education, freedom, all the things wrapped up in Senate Bill 8, the parental rights that are just paramount for our moms and dads across the state to make the decisions that are best for their children’s education. I stand for that. And so I think, knowing that we would be the 31st state in the nation to advance a major school choice program, we’d be the ninth or 10th state with an education savings account. They really haven’t from Arizona in its fourth iteration over 30 years, Florida in its third iteration, over 20 years, we really haven’t seen a lot of use of the ESA’s in rural areas. But what I would say to our friends that represent rural areas, and I’m one of them, right? I would say that if those alternative private schools, as opportunities or choices are not available, then the ESA is not really an issue in the first place, because kids are going to stay in those private schools and not seek them.
Monica Madden: How do you address some of the concerns that we’ve heard from teachers and public school organizations who are worried that this might take away funding from public schools that otherwise would have gone there?
Sen. Brandon Creighton: Right, we’ve got historic funding for public schools. This session, we’re lifting up public schools with in between 14 and 18 billion dollars of state funding that wasn’t there even two years ago, right? We’re lifting up public school teachers like never before to be safe, and better compensated in the classroom. And separate from our public school funding initiatives. We have a surplus, and the surplus, like the border, like property tax reform, like strengthening the grid, all of these big issues that we have as priorities for the session, education, freedom should also be one. And so that separate money, it’s going through the Comptroller, not the Texas Education Agency, it’s a very measured plan, and the dollars are set. So it’s about 1% of our public school students, that would be served.
Monica Madden: Now your bill, of course, has cleared the Senate, but is facing a little more resistance, if you will, in the house. Talk about your conversations with members in the lower chamber on how you’re getting that moved forward in the house.
Sen. Brandon Creighton: Yeah, you know, I have great respect for my friends in the house. I loved serving in the Texas House of Representatives. And I understand that it’s a process, they have to make decisions that are best for their districts, and I encourage them to do so. But I think we’re in a different day on the public education landscape. I believe that members that were not for education, freedom or school choice in the past, I think the last 36 months in the public education landscape, really, in Texas and nationwide has changed dramatically. And I think we’ve got some open hearts and minds that are considering the ESA more than ever before, even if even last session, they weren’t for it.
Monica Madden: Now, pivoting to another topic that’s important. This week, the House and Senate named its members of the conference committee to hash out the differences of the budget. You’re one of those five senators talk about some of the challenges that lie ahead in those negotiations.
Sen. Brandon Creighton: Yeah, I’m excited that Lieutenant Governor Patrick asked me to serve as a budget conferee. As you mentioned, those were the final negotiators between the Senate and the House to reconcile those two budgets and their differences. So we’ve got some major work to do. There are always differences in the priorities of the Senate and the House for the budget. There’s also great alignment. So we’ve got some incredible opportunities to land the plane for historic support for public schools for our teachers, for our retired teachers and cost of living adjustments and a 13th check combined. That’s really incredible. We’ve got to show our teachers that when they enter the profession that we’ve got a destination for them when they leave the profession later on after their career is over. And we’re addressing both. School safety is an incredible opportunity. We have between 600 million and a billion three invested in school safety. We have a lot of incredible initiatives there.
Monica Madden: One area where there isn’t alignment is the differences between the House and Senate proposals on property taxes, we’ve heard the Lieutenant Governor say he doesn’t want to negotiate with bad math. So how specifically are you and your members in the House going to iron out those details?
Sen. Brandon Creighton: Yeah, I think property tax overall, if we’re negotiating on how to lower property taxes for everyday Texans and businesses, I think we’re all winning. Right? So the House and the Senate have different plans. But that’s what the budget conferees are for is to work out the details on how to reconcile and blend the best aspects of both plants. And I believe we’ll do it.
Monica Madden: Do you think constituents like one plan more than the other?
Sen. Brandon Creighton: We’re hearing from constituents, and, on both, they’d really like both plans put together. So we have scarcity of dollars, we have to make sure that we can fund basic state services. And just as California found last session, the surplus goes away. And we have to be measured with what we can sustain in spending going forward in future sessions. So we have worked, I think we’ll have a historic cut and property taxes, reform and relief, which is changing the system and lowering the amount of dollars that, you know,