Texas State Board of Education changes direction on school choice

A final vote to strike the State Board of Education (SBOE) legislative priority on school vouchers and education savings accounts took place on February 3. The SBOE on Friday voted 8 to 5 to remove efforts to reject “school vouchers” or “education savings accounts” from its legislative recommendations.

Gov. Greg Abbott made opening remarks before the meeting: “We all need to do better … It’s a proven mathematical fact, that more money does not always lead to better results.”

“The future of our state depends on our kids doing better in math and reading.”

“We are Texas, it’s not good enough to be 10th or 20th … if you come to work where your goal is to be anything other than number one, you are doing it the wrong way.”

On Thursday, the SBOE took the first steps to back away from what was the board’s original stance on school vouchers after members voted 8 to 5 to preliminarily strike down that priority.

For the 88th Legislative Session, the SBOE had set as a priority to “call on the Texas Legislature to reject all attempts to divert public dollars away from public schools” if the legislature may attempt to create “school vouchers” or “education savings accounts.”

With this recommendation removal by the SBOE, a neutral stance is established by board members on the topic of school choice.

This turn might have been prompted by Abbott’s recent comments about his support for education savings accounts (ESA).

“Parents should not be helpless, they should be able to choose the education option that is best for their child,” Abbott said Tuesday at an event in Corpus Christi.

“The way to do that is with ESAs — Education Savings Accounts. We’ve seen them work in other states and we’ve seen them work in the State of Texas also.”

Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston) wrote after the SBOE’s decision, “Thank you to the State Board of Education for rescinding the anti parent legislative priority that opposed educational Choice (money follow the child education savings accounts). And thank you to the new SBOE members for taking such a strong stance for parental rights!”

The 15-member SBOE has seen an increase in attention from its new members’ opposition to “woke” curricula and critical race theory.

One of those newcomers, Republican LJ Francis, thanked Middleton on Twitter and said the board “will work hard for the students and parent[s] of Texas!”

Last November, the outgoing SBOE members voted 8 to 3 to request the Legislature vote against school choice measures such as education savings accounts.

School choice is a top priority for the Texas Senate. “We have to have school choice … we just have to have it," Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said.

Middleton has also taken charge with filing Senate Bill 176, which lays out a tax credit plan for school choice.

Patrick said at his inauguration that he and Abbott are “all in” on school choice, but House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) has expressed skepticism about passing school choice measures through the lower chamber this session.

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