AUSTIN, Texas - The top issue for the Special Session is Governor Abbott’s call for school choice legislation.
Abbott is specifically asking state lawmakers to authorize what’s called education savings accounts. School choice is expected to move quickly out of the senate and the real fight will be held in the state House.
FOX 7 Austin’s Chief Political Reporter Rudy Koski spoke with republican Ellen Troxclair and democrat James Talarico, two state lawmakers from the Austin metro, before the opening gavel of the Special Session.
JAMES TALARICO: So school choice is completely B.S. It's a slogan that's meant to sell these voucher scams.
ELLEN TROXCLAIR: It's imperative that we make sure that every child in Texas has access to a great education. 70% of children in Texas, a third-grader, cannot read on grade level. We cannot keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
JAMES TALARICO: The legislature cannot be the arsonist and the firefighter at the same time. Our schools may be struggling, but that's because the legislature refuses to fully fund them. We are 43rd in the nation in per student education funding.
ELLEN TROXCLAIR: Education Savings Accounts are a great way to ensure that parents have control over their tax dollars. And where that money goes by allowing a portion of school funding to follow their child at 31 other states already have some sort of school choice program. So we're not reinventing the wheel.
JAMES TALARICO: This is not school choice. It's actually the school’s choice,
RUDY KOSKI: So what's so wrong, though, in giving parents an exit ramp saying, all right, you can take some money, or you can tap into a fund and get your kid out of a situation you don't want them to be in. Why is that a bad thing?
JAMES TALARICO: That may sound right, but that's not what vouchers do. You know, in fact, the states that have tried this let's take Arizona, for instance. They have a large private school voucher system that's up and running. It has not only cost the state more than they thought, and it has not only been attached to corruption scandals, but it's actually serving kids who are already in private school. 80, 85% of their voucher program in Arizona is just subsidizing wealthy families who already had their kid in private school to begin with.
ELLEN TROXCLAIR: This is not going to cost taxpayers additional dollars.
RUDY KOSKI: Will you vote to put more money into the school system if you're going to vote for the school choice?
ELLEN TROXCLAIR: We have invested a record amount of money in our public education system. But yet not a day goes by where you can't turn on the news and see something like Eanes ISD buying Teslas for their district instead of investing in teacher pay or student achievement. So it's decisions like this that have led many across the state to say, well, is our tax dollars being really put to the best use?
JAMES TALARICO: I know bipartisanship is a dirty word nowadays, but call me old-fashioned, but I think Republicans and Democrats should come together to represent the public's interest.
RUDY KOSKI: Are you worried that maybe the rural Republicans will be bought off with funding for their schools?
JAMES TALARICO: You know, I talk to my rural Republican friends all the time and I hear that they are standing strong. They know that vouchers will decimate rural public schools across the state. You know, 160 counties in Texas don't even have a private school. So the idea that private school voucher scams are going to help them is ludicrous. There's not even a private school to go to in most counties in Texas.
ELLEN TROXCLAIR: This is a huge state. We have a lot of Texans depending on us. And the work cannot stop. We have got to keep pushing forward.