Governor declares vouchers an “emergency item” in State of the State address
Date Posted: 2/17/2023
Photo credit: Office of the Texas Governor
Gov. Greg Abbott (R) delivered his biennial State of the State address Thursday in San Marcos, deviating from its usual venue of the State Capitol and not allowing reporters to attend in person.
He declared “educational freedom” (a euphemism for vouchers and the parental rights wedge issues) to be an “emergency item,” a procedural move that allows legislators to pass bills on these subjects before the 60th day of the session. (He also named six other emergency items, including school safety.)
His speech delivered more of his current rhetoric pushing legislators to pass a voucher scheme, skewing information about the rights already available to parents in state law, and attacking educators for “indoctrinating” students with “woke” curricula.
“The governor pulled out every soundbite in the playbook,” ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes said. “The parental rights he outlines are already present in state law, minus the ability to use taxpayer dollars to send their child to a private school. And the thousands of Texas educators I work with each day understand their role is to work with, not against, parents to educate Texas children.”
Abbott’s speech did not include the word “voucher,” using instead the popular code word “school choice.” The governor and pro-voucher legislators have pushed for creation of an “Education Savings Account” type of voucher this session, through which parents could access public funds to use for their children’s tuition at a private school or for home school expenses. Abbott has also referred to our state’s existing Supplemental Special Education Services (SESS) program passed by the Legislature in 2021 as an “Education Savings Account.” The Legislature went to great lengths to ensure the SSES program was not a voucher. SESS is designed not to replace the role of public education. A public education student receiving special services can use an SESS to receive supplemental support in addition to and not in lieu of public education. As passed, SESS stipends are not considered vouchers by ATPE and other public education advocates.
Credit: Office of the Texas Governor
But in skewing this language, Abbott is insinuating that voucher programs already exist in Texas—but they don’t, thanks to the strong advocacy of public educators and public school parents, as well as the consistent votes of a Legislature opposed to vouchers. Voucher opposition is particularly strong in rural areas, where many counties don’t even have accredited private schools.
“Whether he calls it an education savings account, a tax credit, or something else, it’s a voucher, and ATPE will oppose it,” Holmes says.
What you can do
The No. 1 step you can take right now to protect public education is to contact your state representative and state senator to let them know you oppose vouchers by any name. ATPE members can log in to Advocacy Central and use the “Urge Texas lawmakers to say NO to voucher bills!” campaign to easily contact their lawmakers.
You can also educate yourself, your colleagues, and your friends and family about the damage vouchers will do to public schools. In the latest episode of The ATPE Podcast, ATPE Governmental Relations Director Monty Exter and new ATPE Lobbyist Tricia Cave explain why vouchers are such a critical issue for educators to understand and speak out against.
ATPE members who are attending ATPE at the Capitol Feb. 20–21 will receive training on communicating with legislators about opposing vouchers, as well as ATPE’s other legislative priorities, before they visit the Capitol Tuesday.
Things have just gotten (even more) interesting. It’s time to pull together (again) and stand up for public school students.