Abbott, Patrick 'all in on school choice'


The second-highest state official in Texas, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, pushed his chips to the middle of the policy table on school choice. 

“The governor and I are all in on school choice,” Patrick said in his speech on Tuesday. “We are going to pass school choice and I hope, finally, that this is the session that we join over 30 other states in giving parental rights to parents to choose the school of their choice.”

He did not say the same thing about House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont), who’s previously expressed skepticism about school choice’s ability to pass his chamber. In a May radio interview, Phelan said, “It’s something we’ve had on the House floor on budget night, which was a test vote [for vouchers], and it’s been about 40 to 45 out of 150 members [who] would vote for that. So the delta is pretty large on getting school choice across the finish line.”

Patrick added on Tuesday, “Governor, thank you for making this a campaign issue. By the way, we got 77 percent of the vote in rural Texas — we both campaigned on that — and I think people of rural Texas are just fine with school choice.”

A year ago, Abbott said he expected to see “a stronger, swifter, more powerful movement advocating school choice than you’ve ever seen in the history of the State of Texas.” He’s since doubled and tripled down on the issue.

In his speech, Abbott was not as direct as Patrick, but said, “No one knows what is better for a child’s education than their parents. Those parents deserve the freedom to choose the education that’s best for their child.”

The push for school choice has been criticized by some in rural areas, including some Republicans, as being anathema to those communities — specifically, that allowing parents to take their tax dollars elsewhere would undermine public schools’ ability to operate.

To that, Patrick said, “The governor and I will have a plan to protect those schools financially, and to make sure those parents have choice also where they are.”

The final shape of the school choice legislation is yet to be determined. Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston) has filed Senate Bill 176 that’d create a tuition tax credit for parents moving their children to other schools.

Given the emphasis by Patrick, it is likely the blessed version will be announced among the Senate’s slate of 30 priority bills that has yet to come out.

The 88th Texas Legislature gaveled in one week ago and will conclude on May 29.

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