Austin (Nexstar) — Governor Greg Abbott said supporters of school choice are close to their goal at the Capitol. But Thursday night, he urged backers to avoid mimicking the Texas Longhorns in the final push for the legislation.
Abbott spoke at Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) 2023 Parent Empowerment Leadership Summit dinner, about an hour after the Texas Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill to allow parents to use public funds to pay for private education.
“We are on the one-yard line, a good place to be,” Abbott said.
Abbott referenced Texas Football’s play calling in Texas’s 30-34 loss to Oklahoma in 2023’s edition of the Red River Rivalry. He referenced UT’s lack of success at the one-yard line as a metaphor to illustrate the current risk, even with success seeming close.
“UT took four downs from the one-yard line, and — because of strategies, decision making, and maybe execution — they could not get it from the one-yard line across the goal line,” Abbott said.
Abbott illustrated that the cards are in place, as the Senate has passed Senate Bill 1. Senate Bill 1 would allocate $500 million toward the creation of an education savings account program.
The funding comes from Texas’ general revenue and would be available for eligible Pre-K through 12th grade school-aged children. Families of eligible students would receive $8,000 each year that they are enrolled in the program in an account. In order to qualify, they must have attended public school within the last year or are about to enter pre-K or kindergarten for the first time.
The next obstacle is the bill getting passed in the House, where it has faced resistance in past sessions. The opposition includes most Democratic state legislators, but also some rural Republicans who worry funds could be stripped from some rural districts that do not have private alternatives.
Despite the opposition, Abbott emphasizes that this time should be different. He cited support shown in a referendum election on last year’s Republican primary ballot, where Texas GOP voters were asked if they support having the ability to have an Education Savings Accounts (ESA).
“88% of the people who go vote voted yes. They want school choice in the state of Texas,” Abbott said. “Republican lawmakers, it does not matter.”
The Governor also emphasized an incentive for lawmakers. Senators also passed a plan to provide additional funding for schools and teacher pay raises. That bill can only advance if the Governor adds it to the special session call.
“I wrote the agenda for the special session, as only addressing ESAs. Once ESAs are passed, I will put on the legislative call for full funding for public education, including teacher pay raises for teachers across the state of Texas,” Abbott said, to applause from the audience.
Emphasizing that that he and his supporters will not play like Texas Football, Abbott claimed that school choice will become a reality soon.
“We are going to choose plays that will get us across that goal line,” Abbott said. “We’re going to score.”