Texas GOP Adds School Choice to Platform, Some Lawmakers Resistant

Texas GOP Adds School Choice to Platform, Some Lawmakers Resistant
July 10, 2014

Haley Vrdolyak

Haley Vrdolyak is a government relations intern for The Heartland Institute.    (read full bio)
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The Texas Republican Party added support for private school choice to its platform after several legislative sessions in which Republican leaders refused to advance school choice bills.

The new platform says the Texas Republican Party advocates policies that “allow maximum freedom of choice in public, private, or parochial education for all children.” The platform also denounces government regulation of private schools.

“Texas children can be forgotten in arguments over budgets and funding formulas, so it’s great to see that the Republican party chose to include school choice as a way to make sure that education policy is ‘child-centered,’” observed Michael Barba, an education researcher for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Republican Leaders Kill Choice
The Texas legislature meets every two years. In its last session, in 2013, several GOP lawmakers thwarted several pieces of legislation that would have empowered parents to make educational decisions for their children.

Much of this legislation died at the hands of Rep. Jimmie Aycock (R-Killeen), chairman of the House Education Committee, and other rural Republicans. Aycock’s committee killed a Parent Trigger bill, which would give parents the power to demand reforms within poor-performing schools, although the bill had already passed by a wide margin in the Senate. The House Education Committee did not even allow a hearing for legislation creating a voucher program.

Aycock and other members of the Republican Party also supported legislation that limits the number of charter schools that can be created, an action which severely curtails school choice in the state.

Most of the 30 states that are controlled by Republicans, as Texas is in each legislative chamber and the governorship, have instituted private school choice programs. The only Republican-controlled states that have not are Alaska, Idaho, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming. Michigan’s constitution forbids private school choice, and Alaska, Tennessee, and Idaho lawmakers have proposed such laws in recent sessions. Typically, rural lawmakers are less likely to support school choice because their constituents have closer community ties to local public schools.

“School choice is gaining momentum in several states around the nation, such a Louisiana, which now has school choice programs and a scholarship tax credit,” Barba said. “Both of these help shift the focus away from institutions to children. We hope that writing school choice into the party platform produces similar results in Texas.”

Future Looks Promising
One of the state’s strongest school-choice champions, Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), is running for lieutenant governor, noted Allen Parker, president of the Justice Foundation. He is “campaigning on school choice at virtually every opportunity,” Parker said.

“I think enthusiasm is very strong,” he said.

Since Texas’s lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate, he can influence legislation, Parker said. But some Republicans still oppose school choice, creating obstacles for future legislation, Parker said. The current Speaker of the House, Rep. Joe Strauss (R-San Antonio), “has been less enthusiastic,” he said. 

Image by Ed Schipul.

Haley Vrdolyak

Haley Vrdolyak is a government relations intern for The Heartland Institute.    (read full bio)