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After House vote signaling opposition to school choice, Gov. Greg Abbott says the fight isn’t over

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

After House vote signaling opposition to school choice, Gov. Greg Abbott says the fight isn’t over” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday he was not discouraged after the Texas House took a key vote rejecting one his highest priorities this legislative session.

The House voted 86-52 on Thursday to amend the budget to ban state funding for “school vouchers or other similar programs.”

Abbott has spent the past two months touring the state to build support for the proposal, spending tremendous political capital on trying to break through the rural Republican opposition to it.

The amendment came at a crucial time — the same day the Senate passed legislation to create a voucher-like program and five days before a House committee considers proposals on the subject.

“Governor Abbott made education freedom an emergency item this legislative session because no one knows the needs of their child better than a parent,” Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze said in a statement. “The … amendment received the least support ever. This vote shows the legislature remains open to school choice, supporting the majority of Texans who want to expand school choice.”

The 86 votes that the amendment received were less than the 115 votes a similar amendment to the House budget got during the last legislative session. Other prior amendments on the issue have also garnered over 100 votes. The vote itself is essentially symbolic, as the amendment is expected to be stripped by the Senate before the final budget is passed. But it illustrates how the House may vote on the issue when similar legislation comes to their chamber.

Still, only 52 members voted in favor of school vouchers, far short of the 76-member majority needed to approve any such legislation in the House. Eleven members stayed neutral by registering as “present, not voting,” signaling potential openness to the proposal but still not enough to generate majority support even if they all sided with Abbott.

The House approved the amendment Friday after the Public Education Committee chair, Rep. Brad Buckley, R-Killeen, asked members to table it given that his panel is set to hear legislation on the topic Tuesday. But his motion to table failed, 64-71, paving the way for an up-or-down vote.

Since late January, Abbott has spoken at a dozen “parent empowerment” events where he has pitched education savings accounts, which would allow parents to use state funds to send their kids to nonpublic schools. In another sign Abbott is not giving up on the issue, he is scheduled to hold his 13th parent empowerment event Thursday in San Antonio.

On the same day the House passed the anti-voucher budget amendment, the Senate approved legislation that would establish an education savings account program that would give parents up to $8,000 per student each year. Senators sought to appeal to rural Republicans by including a provision for districts with fewer than 20,000 students to receive $10,000 for every child who enrolls in the program and leaves their district.

“The Senate has already passed school choice legislation to the House, and the House committee will be taking up similar bills this coming week,” Eze said in the statement. “Governor Abbott looks forward to the legislature passing school choice legislation this year and signing it into law to ensure all Texas students have access to the best educational opportunities.”

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