School choice: Texas Governor Abbott threatens to veto pared-down bill

Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted Sunday, May 14 that the Texas House needs to get in line with the Texas Senate. 

The governor said Texas parents and their children deserve the time and effort it will take to pass critical school choice legislation this session. Abbott went on to say if the House can't match the Senate, he will call special sessions plural until it's done. 

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


MIKE WARREN: Matt Mackowiak, why is the governor pushing so hard for this type of legislation?

MATT MACKOWIAK: Yeah. We're getting down to the end of the session. We've got about two weeks left. The house has been slow to act on Senate priorities. The House would probably argue the Senate's been slow to act on House priorities. This generally happens. Where we are now is the governors made clear that education freedom is a priority and that he is going to require that it pass both houses and get to his desk this legislative session. The Senate passed bold school choice legislation several weeks ago, might have even been more than a month ago. The most recent version of the House bill that I guess is going to get voted on Wednesday only provides these options to about 800,000 Texas students, while the Senate bill, I think, provides it to about 5 million. So this is about freedom. It's about choice. Rich parents have school choice. They would never accept having their kids be trapped in a failing school. And so we want to take that school choice that rich parents have now and apply it to every parent in Texas that's broadly very, very popular. 

MIKE WARREN: Katie, is the governor pushing something the state doesn't need?

KATIE NARANJO: I think the governor is pushing something that is unconstitutional, that does not have the structure to actually fund public education and quite frankly, takes rural communities and underserved communities and makes the schools actually in a higher degree of failure. It's something that, by the way, was not popular in the Senate while it did pass the Senate. That was with a really strong fist of lieutenant governor. And there's been recent reporting that senators feel like they've been thrown under a bus by the lieutenant governor. And the reality is, is that the votes aren't there in the House either. Looking at the committee hearing you had today, you had numerous superintendents of rural communities wanting to know how they're going to restructure the base of how you fund public education, which is school attendance. And by not addressing those issues, the allotment caps, etc., you don't have the support and or the real structure to fund public education going forward with the voucher program. 

MIKE WARREN: Matt Mackowiak, critics of school choice say the Republicans are only doing this for their donors. What do you say to that?

MATT MACKOWIAK: I don't even know what that means. Donors are generally wealthy, and wealthy parents can afford to put their kids in private school, parochial school, homeschool, you name it. Its poor parents that are going to benefit from this. Katie may not know this, or she may just not have the facts. But. But the per pupil allotment actually benefits schools once school choice is in place. And the reason that is, is that they keep $0.80 of the dollar for every student that would have attended their school, they keep 100% of the school students. The money that for the students that do stay they keep 80% of the money for the students that leave. And so they're going to be there's going to be a higher per pupil amount in those schools. I don't believe rural schools are going to have significant school choice options. So rural school attendance, superintendents, you know, complaining about competition when I doubt there's going to be competition any time soon rings pretty hollow. That said, where this may be going is you may see school choice in urban and suburban areas and perhaps some type of more limited option, perhaps just for special education in rural school districts.

MIKE WARREN: Okay, Katie, final word.  

KATIE NARANJO: And yeah, what Matt just admitted to is a 20% cut to rural schools. And he just said there and that's a per pupil funding with only 80%. You're still taking the pupils out of the school system. And again, also not really having any choice in terms of rural communities with charter schools or other voucher based school options. So again, this is a problem that the Republicans are trying to solve. That is really not a fix for the underlying lack of support to our public education system and educators. 

MIKE WARREN: All right. We're out of time. We've got to wrap it up. There's, again, just a few weeks left for the legislature. Katie, Matt, thank you both very much.