Gov. Greg Abbott does not see expanding school choice through a voucher-like program as an ultimatum for Texas.
He told a crowd of parents and students April 19 gathered inside Harnett Arena at Nolan Catholic High School that he expects the Legislature will allow families to use public dollars to fund an education that best fits their students. At the same time, the Republican vowed more money is headed to public schools.
“We’re not facing an either-or choice,” Abbott said. “The reality is we can have both.”
Abbott’s stop in Fort Worth is the latest in his barnstorming of the state to gain support for an education savings account program, a policy that gives parents a set amount of taxpayer dollars to fund educational expenses, such as private school tuition or homeschooling.
An education savings account program already has cleared one hurdle. The Senate approved a measure that would give parents $8,000 per student annually.
In Fort Worth, that amount won’t cover tuition at most private schools without additional financial aid. The average private school tuition is $14,993, according to a Fort Worth Report analysis of the city’s more than 30 private schools.
The bill also provides some relief to smaller traditional school districts. Independent school districts with fewer than 20,000 students would receive $10,000 for two years for each student who leaves for a private school. Districts would receive that extra money for two years. Typically, schools receive about $6,000 in state funding for each student.
If it becomes law, the program would cost an estimated $1 billion by 2028.
Opponents of the voucher-like program argue an education savings account program would divert money from what they see as an underfunded public school system — and possibly doom public education.
“We’re not going to have a crashing of the public school system,” the governor said.
If an education savings account program becomes law, the policy will have ripple effects across all schools, Gabriel Huddleston, an education professor at Texas Christian University, previously told the Fort Worth Report.
“This is going to have ramifications for a long period of time, especially in a place like Fort Worth that is so diverse, has so many different schools and has so many different charters,” Huddleston said.
The possible impacts vary. Education in Fort Worth is spread among 12 independent school districts, 15 charter networks, more than 30 private schools, and homeschools.
Rev. Charles Johnson, executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, is against any voucher program. He expects any program, regardless of what it is called, will harm education in Texas.
“Vouchers are corrupt. It’s a corruption of the public trust,” Johnson previously told the Report.
The House passed a $302.6 billion budget that calls for $5 billion in new money for schools. The budget also features an amendment that would ban state funds going to voucher-like programs.
The Senate approved a different budget calling for $308 billion in spending, which includes $5 billion in additional money for schools.
Oscar Ortiz, principal of Nolan Catholic High School, wants as many students as possible to experience the classical liberal arts education his school delivers to more than 700 children. Nolan Catholic High School’s tuition for the 2023-24 school year is $18,550.
Students regardless of their family’s income and ZIP code deserve to attend a school that best fits their needs, Ortiz said. Current legislative proposals would deliver on that promise if approved, he said.
“There is no one better suited than a parent to determine the best educational environment for their child, whether that be public, private, charter or homeschool,” Ortiz said.
Abbott and other speakers framed the event and school choice legislation as empowering parents.
Bishop Michael Olson of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth called on the Legislature to recognize parents’ right to pick the education that best fits their child.
The Legislature has 40 days remaining.
“We must not let this opportunity pass,” Olson said.
Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.