Vouchers Give Beto O'Rourke Weapon
Tailor-Made for Bipartisan Rural Appeal

Capitol Inside
August 12, 2022

Governor Greg Abbott steered his re-election campaign into dangerous waters on Thursday with a renewed pitch for school choice at a private Christian institution in Dallas - a risky move that could give Democrat Beto O'Rourke a boost in rural areas that he appears to see as the key to an upset at the polls this fall.

While O'Rourke campaigned before overflow crowds at town halls in Decatur and Fort Worth, Abbott paid a visit to the King's Academy in a Black neighborhood on the south side for a private meeting with voucher proponents and photo op with staff and several students. Abbott was careful to avoid the word vouchers - packaging a resurrected proposal as a parental rights plan instead.

"No government program can fill the vital role parents play in their children's education," Abbott tweeted after a roundtable at the school. "Parents deserve a true choice to provide the best education possible for their children."

The Republican governor capped off the push to subsidize private schools with public funds with an exclamation point post on Friday on social media. "Parents Matter," Abbott declared in a tweet. "I'm running for re-election to put parents first in every decision about their child's education."

Abbott didn't say whether he might favor a repeal of compulsory attendance laws that Texas school districts are required to enforce for the sake of parents who don't think their kids need a formal education or simply need the money they could make if they weren't forced to spend time on book-learning instead. The governor's tweet when taken literally suggests that he would.

But school vouchers face stringent opposition among rural voters who've been the difference between winning and losing in statewide races during the GOP era in Texas in the past two decades. Abbott's endorsement of school choice than three months before the general election creates the impression that Abbott is taking rural Texas for granted and thinks he can win without support from independents, moderate Republicans or conservative Democrats.

The governor's vouchers trumpeting fits perfectly into O'Rourke's bid to build a bipartisan coalition that he has to have if he hopes to become the first Democrat to win statewide in Texas in the past 28 years. O'Rourke has been barnstorming in rural areas with two or three town halls before standing room only audiences.

Abbott's ramped up support for vouchers has given the Democratic challenger another potent weapon for an arsenal that's been on display this week with attacks against Abbott for rising utility bills, abortion rights, teacher shortages and the state's monumental mishandling of the response to a mass school shooting in Uvalde this past spring.

Teacher groups sharply assailed Abbott's latest foray into an issue that Republicans have floated and folded and renamed several times without settling on a consensus phrase for the use of public funds to subsidize private school tuition. Texas American Federation of Teachers President Zeph Capo accused Abbott of semantics games to dodge the negative connotations that go with the term private school vouchers.

“It’s no surprise, though, that he’d avoid talking transparently about vouchers given so few Texans support them," Capo said.

King's Academy has an enrollment of 70 students as a school that's nestled in the Bonton community in a low-income section of Dallas southeast of downtown. But the school was conceived by a group at the massive Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano where a long list of elected Republican leaders have gotten campaigns off the ground.

The Prestonwood church's senior pastor - Jack Graham - has been credited as the vision and inspiration behind King's Academy under an umbrella that includes Prestonwood Christian Academy where 1,600 students are enrolled at campuses in Plano and Prosper and a Virtual Academy on the Internet.

“Some children have different education needs,” Abbott said. “We need to understand that some schools may provide a one-size-fits-all approach to educating our kids, and the fact of the matter is not all kids are that same size — different kids need different programs.”

Prestonwood Christian Academy has an enrollment that's 76 percent white according to GreatSchools.org, which doesn't list the sister school King's Academy.

more to come ...








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