TEA official secretly recorded advocating for school vouchers

A high ranking official with the Texas Education Agency was secretly recorded advocating for school vouchers and admitting it could cut funding to public schools.

In a recording obtained by the Texas Tribune, the deputy commissioner is heard on the phone with a mother who was unhappy with her local school district and transferred her child to a private school.

"School districts, what they have to do is just like, be smart. About what if they lose students, be smart about how they allocate the resources in life, right? Like, maybe that's one less fourth grade teacher," the recording said.

RELATED: High-ranking TEA official admits public school funds could drop with voucher-like programs

Governor Abbott says promoting school vouchers are one of his priorities for this legislative session. 

Katie Naranjo, chair of the Travis County Democratic Party, and Matt Mackowiak, chair of the Travis County Republican Party, joined FOX 7 Austin's Mike Warren to discuss.

MIKE WARREN: Matt Mackowiak, what is the case for vouchers? 

MATT MACKOWIAK: Well, these aren't vouchers. There are educational savings accounts in the cases that there are 30 states that have school choice, and there's something like 65 programs across those 30 states. And even in ten states, you have educational savings accounts. Look at Florida. Look at Tennessee. Look at Arizona. Look what Katie and Democrats want is they want to say in schools whether those schools have the same number of children or not. And what we want is we want dollars to follow the child. If a child is in one school, the dollars follow the child there. If the parent chooses another school for that child, maybe because they're special needs or because they want to leave a failing school and go to a succeeding school, the dollars should follow the child. So that's all we're proposing. I do believe it'll pass. Certainly the Senate, as it has said in past sessions, the question is going to be the House. And in the past, you've had rural, rural members who have had some concern about this kind of program. But I think you're going to see more headway made this legislative session ever before.

MIKE WARREN: Katie, how will vouchers cut funding for Texas public school districts

KATIE NARANJO: Well, I think the issue is, as Matt describes it, yeah, that sounds like a great utopian system. The reality is, is that's not what is being discussed and put forward. And in fact, the governor went so far as to address the reality that you do have to look at rural school districts or school districts that may not have the ability to have that diversity of opportunities in the areas that they serve. And so when you're holding charter schools and other schools to one standard and then public schools to another standard that creates a class system within our educational system. And if you don't live in a urban area and have the ability to go to different schools and have a choice, then really what you're doing is just taking funds from teachers, from schools and from our children. And that's the concern that we have, is that you have to treat each group the same. There has to be equity and equality across both systems.

MIKE WARREN: Matt Mackowiak. How do Texas Republicans fix this issue for vouchers in smaller rural communities?

MATT MACKOWIAK: Yeah. So look, there are two schools of thought on that. The first is in the example Katie provides if, if new private school opportunities don't present themselves in rural areas because of demand or because of upfront cost or whatever the reason is, then you're not going to see students moving from public schools into private schools. So those schools won't be heard at all. Now, if you do happen to see those opportunities start popping up in rural areas, then it'll be up to parents. And look, at the end of the day, we should want competition. Competition has been good in every aspect of modern life. We should have that in education so that the best models can succeed. Failing models can fail. And ultimately, again, you put parents in control of their child's education. No child should accept a failing school for their child. No, I certainly wouldn't. I doubt Katie would either.

MIKE WARREN: Katie, final thoughts here.

KATIE NARANJO: I agree that we all want our schools to succeed, but they have to be held to the same standards. That includes the curriculum that they're teaching, health standards, the standards in terms of teaching children with disabilities, etc. And the reality is, is that has not been presented to Texans for consideration. We still have it. You're creating still a class, a system that hasn't been able to ensure that public schools are able to address the student needs as well as the same standards for charter schools. We saw that when it came to the pandemic and health care concerns or come to book banning having public transparency and accountability to parents and charters, we're failing at that. And so we need to make sure we have an equitable system across both.

MIKE WARREN: Very good. 

MATT MACKOWIAK: 300,000 Texas kids in charter schools, 60,000 on wait lists.

MIKE WARREN: Okay. All right. We're going to have to leave it there. Katie, Matt, thank you very much.