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Texas Voters Punish Lawmakers Who Oppose School Choice

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School choice protester holding a sign | Bob Daemmrich/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom

Texas lawmakers had an opportunity to take bold action on school choice in 2023. Instead, they sided with teachers unions and chose to preserve an educational monopoly that abandons millions of families in a one-size-fits-all system.

Voters paid attention to the do-nothing approach. The result was a shellacking for the 21 House Republicans who joined Democrats to kill school choice during four special sessions ending on December 5, 2023. Of this group, only seven Republicans survived their 2024 primary election season.

The other 14 GOP incumbents either lost in the first round on March 5, lost in a runoff on May 28, or retired and did not face reelection. In contrast, 54 of 63 Republicans who supported school choice cruised through their primaries—an 86 percent victory.

Cassandra Posey, a former public school teacher who now fights for school choice, followed the races closely and said school choice was a central issue. This was by design. Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who called the special sessions, made clear to lawmakers that if a school choice bill was not passed and sent to his desk, he would bring the issue to primary voters.

“We will have everything teed up in a way where we will be giving voters in the primary a choice,” Abbott said in September during a virtual town hall.

Voters have now made their choice clear: They want educational savings accounts (ESAs), a tool that empowers students and their families. When opting for an ESA, participating families receive a designated amount of funds from the state to offset K-12 costs. Educational options previously out of reach—such as private school tuition, tutoring services, homeschool materials, and services for special needs—all become more affordable and accessible.

Finding room in the state budget is not the issue. The money for educating Texas children is there. The real fight is about power.

Teachers unions like using ZIP codes to assign schools. They oppose ESAs because these accounts give parents myriad options to tailor their children’s learning experiences.

That is why the unions celebrated when lawmakers rejected ESAs, which are sometimes called “vouchers” by those who oppose them even though ESAs give far more control to parents and students. The status quo means fewer families can escape union influence and the underperforming school system they control.

“We stopped vouchers in their tracks,” the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers wrote in a news release at the end of the 2023 special sessions.

Texas voters can now boast right back that they stopped 14 anti-choice lawmakers in their tracks. The changing of the guard dramatically alters the composition of the Texas House and will give ESA supporters new momentum when they try again in the 2025 legislative session.

“Our goal is to level the playing field,” says Posey, who now homeschools her three daughters in Waller, Texas, outside Houston.

Posey says every child learns differently, and local schools do not always meet a student’s needs. “ESAs put families in control,” she says. “Parents can shop around when a child needs something different.”

This is how things already work in 13 states that operate ESAs. Another 33 states have school choice programs that let education funds follow students to the schools or services that fit their needs.

Texas will have many models to consider in 2025. The Texas State Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, opposes all of them. Union president Ovidia Molina calls every ESA proposal an attack against public schools because families might take their money and go elsewhere.

Specifically, Molina worries that funds might go to support private schools or possibly homeschools. What she misunderstands—or chooses to ignore—is that parents, not the government, make decisions with ESAs.

Our public interest law firm, the Institute for Justice, has successfully defended ESAs in court, including in North Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Most recently on June 4, we joined a legal battle to defend ESAs in Utah on behalf of parents. The teachers union sued to stop the popular program after 27,000 students applied for the state’s first 10,000 savings accounts.

These programs are not only constitutional, they’re also popular. Posey has nothing against public schools—she just wants families to have choice.

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