AUSTIN, Texas — Texas lawmakers have less than two weeks to pass Gov. Greg Abbott’s top priority, a private school voucher bill. It sailed through the Senate in this third special legislative session, but the more reluctant House has yet to move on any proposal.
Now, grandparents are getting involved in trying to stop vouchers.
JoAnn McKenzie was one of 10 grandparents who visited the Texas Capitol on Thursday to hand out letters to lawmakers.
“We gave out almost 5,000 in a day,” McKenzie said.
The group of grandparents divided and conquered so they could visit as many offices as possible.
“We are fighting vouchers and trying to be sure that public schools are fully funded and fully supported,” McKenzie told one staffer.
McKenzie is part of a new organization, Grandparents for Public Schools (GPS). They say they don’t want the state to take money away from the public schools their grandchildren go to.
A voucher program, also called education savings accounts (ESAs), would allow parents to use tax dollars to send their child to private school or pay for other educational expenses.
“We have a serious stake in our grandchildren’s education,” said Robert Norris, another GPS member.
The Texas House has repeatedly rejected vouchers, with rural Republicans joining Democrats to fight against any program that would take money away from public schools.
“There’s a huge amount of resentment towards those that have anti-public school agendas in many of these rural counties,” said Carl Jones, who’s also with GPS.
The House’s voucher bill includes a onetime bonus for teachers and a slight bump to school funding, but Gov. Abbott says he’ll give more money to public schools only after a voucher bill passes. And if he doesn’t get his way during the third special session, Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, says “the governor has made it clear that we’ll be back for a fourth one.”
Rep. Frank championed ESA legislation during the regular session. He says he wants to create an ESA program and increase public school funding.
“I hope what is going to end up happening is we’re going to say ‘yes’ to all kids in this case,” he said.
When asked why he continues to support ESAs, Rep. Frank said it’s because he believes “the money really should go to the whoever is educating the child.”
“I just really think it is important to fundamentally change who is responsible for a kid’s education,” he continued later in the interview. “And I think the more that we can remind parents, encourage parents, and empower parents to believe that it is them educating their child and the schools are helping them, I think it is best for the parent, the child and the communities.”
As of now, it looks like voucher legislation won’t go anywhere, even if Capitol insiders aren’t ready to admit it.
“Nobody knows, huh? OK,” McKenzie said after a staffer said she didn’t know if the House would vote on the ESA bill during this special session.
McKenzie knows the fight isn’t over, and she says she’ll keep showing up to the Capitol for one reason.
“The best job I’ve ever had is being a grandparent, and there’s absolutely nothing I wouldn’t do for those kids,” McKenzie said.