Parental rights, school choice vouchers top agenda for Texas Republicans this session

Parental rights and school choice vouchers top the agenda of Texas Republicans this legislative session. 

The Texas Tribune is hosting a live event next week in an effort to get all the players in one room to discuss the issue. It's called School Choice What's Right for Texas?

Speakers include professionals in private and public education. It is taking place Thursday, Feb. 16 at 8 a.m., and you can register to attend or watch the conversation live on the Texas Tribune website.


Brian Lopez, education reporter at the Texas Tribune, joined FOX 7 Austin's Rebecca Thomas to discuss.

REBECCA THOMAS: Brian, you are the host for this school choice discussion next Thursday. What is the Tribune hoping this education platform helps accomplish? 

BRIAN LOPEZ: Yeah, you know, we're kind of hoping to get people from on both sides of this issue to kind of talk about kind of what they're looking forward to this session, you know, why they want, you know, a school voucher type program. And, you know, on the other side, why you don't want that in Texas and what it would mean for public education in Texas. So we're kind of hoping to see where both sides stand on this issue and kind of how they feel the session will go, if it will go in their favor or not. So we'll kind of see, and hopefully the public can also kind of gain insight on what both sides are thinking.

REBECCA THOMAS: And why do you believe Republicans are pushing so hard on school choice and parental rights this session? 

BRIAN LOPEZ: You know, from what I'm hearing from, you know, lawmakers and consultants, it's really the last kind of three years now of the pandemic that has really driven parental rights to the kind of center of Republican issues. Right. You know, with COVID-19 policies, masking policies which some parents didn't like, and Republicans are opposed. And then you go into, you know, the whole critical race theory of kind of issues on the curriculum and how race is taught. And then you go into, you know, book banning and the kind of materials that are allowed in school and all that, you know, is kind of used as a platform to get the Republican Party and its base kind of fired up to get something passed. So, you know, parents who didn't like these things happening in the past two years can kind of go to a private school or religious school that all teach their children their beliefs.

REBECCA THOMAS: You've heard Governor Abbott talk about teaching education instead of indoctrination. Talk about critical race theory. Is this going to be discussed during the meeting? What can you tell us? 

BRIAN LOPEZ: Yeah, yeah, for sure. I think it's definitely going to be a topic that's going to be brought up during the vote just because a lot of this kind of parental rights movements kind of stems from, you know, that critical race theory debate that kind of started in 2020 after, you know, the killing of George Floyd. So, you know, that has kind of seeped into other things, you know, now with like book banning and what, you know, the critical race theory, Bill, that Texas has. So it's going to be a topic of conversation. You know, one thing that I'll be looking forward to is how much this really has an effect on, you know, what pro school choice, pro school voucher panelists have in mind and how, you know, they kind of think about that debate in public schools right now. 

REBECCA THOMAS: Final question. You know, Friday Night Lights, big deal here in Texas in your education reporting, Brian, do you believe that school choice could have an impact on high school football? 

BRIAN LOPEZ: It remains to be seen how much of an impact they'll be. You know, one of the things when talking to rural lawmakers and rural school officials is they are against anything that, you know, will take or divert, you know, public taxpayer money from their schools to a private school. And most of that is because they're already kind of you know, these schools are the economic hub with high school football, with jobs, careers. You know, they can, you know, they're already struggling financially. They can't afford any more deviation of funds. So definitely, you know, if you start seeing if this goes through and enroll Texas, you start seeing children leave the public schools, you know, you're going to have to start making hard decisions of, you know, what are you cutting? And, you know, you'll have to look at things like sports.

REBECCA THOMAS: Okay. Brian Lopez, education reporter at The Texas Tribune, thank you so much for taking the time to discuss the upcoming school choice event with us.