TEXAS VIEW: Gov. Abbott, on vouchers it’s time to take no for an answer

THE POINT: Legislators rejected broad school choice bill and rightly so.

After four special sessions, it’s time for Gov. Greg Abbott to take no for an answer.

The governor’s push for school vouchers went up in smoke, and trying to use special sessions to bully the Legislature into passing it is just disrespectful. Lawmakers have spoken, and another session isn’t likely to produce a different outcome.

Abbott’s “my way or the highway” approach left little room for constructive negotiations around vouchers. It also made funding for public schools a casualty when he insisted that he would not consider broader funding until a voucher proposal passed.

If the governor wants to succeed, he should spend the time he has before the next regular session building consensus and earning lawmakers’ buy-in. Had Abbott come up with a narrower voucher plan for a far smaller number of students and better targeted failing schools and districts, the outcome might have been different. The plan did include means testing to offer vouchers to those most in need. But it didn’t go far enough to limit the scope of the proposed program.

Abbott continues to threaten a “scorched earth” route of primarying opponents of school choice out of the Legislature. Last month, he endorsed House members who supported a voucher plan while omitting any who did not.

This kind of behavior only reinforces divisions within Texas’ dominant party. Driving a wedge any further between Texas’ two legislative chambers and their leaders is shortsighted and will only make the Legislature less functional.

The reality is that too many public schools aren’t educating students well, which is why frustrated parents enroll their children in charter schools as an alternative to underperforming public schools. Vouchers might have a place in expanding education choice in Texas. Competition can spur improvement, something we have seen with quality charters.

A smartly targeted voucher program might provide parents who lack options some choice they wouldn’t otherwise have. That could be a lifeboat for low-income students funneled into low-quality public schools.

But the plan Abbott is pushing is so broad that it would more likely offer high-income and middle-income students attending quality public schools a check to turn over to a private school. Many lawmakers, including conservatives, saw that as a non-starter, and rightly so.

To keep dragging lawmakers back to Austin is unfair to them and to the legislative process.

Politics is about compromise, but Abbott has refused to accept less than a far-reaching voucher plan that could upend good schools.

He needs to stop bullying and accept that the answer, this time, is no.

The Dallas Morning News