Gov. Greg Abbott recently declared he’s just two votes shy of passing school-choice legislation during the next legislative session.

However, one critical race could determine the fate of his ambitious education reform agenda: the runoff between incumbent Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan and challenger David Covey.

For years, a reliable bloc of Republican lawmakers, bolstered by the Texas Parent PAC, has maintained a firewall against school choice in the House. But that wall is rapidly crumbling.

Texas Parent PAC, allied with pro-teacher union interests, has been identifying and propping up Republican House candidates, primarily rural, since 2007 to vote against school choice and protect and expand a monopoly on education enjoyed by government schools.

The disposition of Parent PAC’s 2022 endorsements helps illustrate the bleak future pro-union hordes face.

In the 2023 special sessions, six of the PAC’s endorsed candidates defected to support school choice. These members joined a bevy of former endorsees who sided with Abbott on school choice when push came to shove.

Another four opted to retire rather than seek reelection in 2024, and the March primary dealt a further blow, with five anti-school choice incumbents losing outright.

Among those caught in a primary is Phelan, a longtime Parent PAC ally, in a heated runoff against Covey, a school-choice proponent.

Despite the Speaker’s claims of neutrality, his past actions suggest he could wield his power to obstruct Abbott’s agenda. This appeared to happen during the session when Abbott announced a deal had been struck on school choice, only to be contradicted by Phelan. School choice was killed shortly after.

While the outcome of this race could have far-reaching implications for the future of education in Texas and directly impact the Governor’s agenda, he’s remained silent on the runoff, declining to back either candidate.

As of late, Abbott has opted to appear with the embattled speaker twice in as many weeks.

Following the first of two brief press conferences last week, the speaker was asked about his run-off election and Abbott’s staying out of it. He used the opportunity to criticize Lt. Governor Dan Patrick for endorsing his rival. Abbott and Phelan will appear together again this week at the Johnson Space Center.

Phelan’s runoff election is May 28, 2024.

Daniel Greer

Daniel Greer is the Director of Innovation for Texas Scorecard.