After winning the Republican primary election nearly one month ago, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is wading into the state legislative runoffs.
Although Abbott had previously given his approval to a slate of incumbent lawmakers heading into the primary, this week he began ramping up endorsements in open runoff races—largely to candidates aligned with the establishment against conservative challengers.
Two specific endorsements, however, have gained negative attention from parental rights advocates.
Both Justin Berry and Barron Casteel—candidates running in separate Central Texas House districts—were endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teachers’ labor union in America. They were some of the few Republicans supported by the union, as AFT mostly endorses Democrats. The union has been a leading voice against education reform, even as parents continue to discover pornographic material and critical race theory being promulgated in public schools.
Corey DeAngelis, the national director of research at the school choice advocacy organization American Federation for Children, noted the issue on Twitter shortly after the endorsements were released.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott endorsed two candidates backed by the teachers union:
• Barron Casteel
• Justin Berry pic.twitter.com/y65g6tuLTN
— Corey A. DeAngelis (@DeAngelisCorey) March 30, 2022
Additionally, DeAngelis noted that Justin Berry had stated opposition to expanding charter schools, even as waitlists for the schools continue to grow.
Justin Berry: "I would oppose the expansion of charter schools"
School choice is on the Republican Party platform.
87.5% of Republican primary voters support school choice. pic.twitter.com/SmyuFHJda6
— Corey A. DeAngelis (@DeAngelisCorey) March 31, 2022
“It doesn’t make any sense for the governor to endorse candidates backed by unions that oppose his education agenda,” DeAngelis told Texas Scorecard, noting that Justin Berry recently came out against school choice, a priority of the Republican Party of Texas.
“That should be a deal-breaker for anyone running with an ‘R’ next to their name. Justin Berry and Barron Casteel should listen to their constituents by rejecting the endorsements of the teachers unions and respecting parental rights in education. The only way to truly secure parental rights in education is to fund students instead of systems,” he added.
Meanwhile, Randan Steinhauser, the founder of the Texas School Choice Coalition, also took issue with Abbott’s endorsement, noting that the governor could no longer blame the state Legislature for failing to expand school choice if he continued endorsing candidates in opposition to the movement.
@GregAbbott_TX must stop blaming the #TXLege for not passing #schoolchoice if he is going to endorse people who oppose parental freedom in #education and are endorsed by the teacher's union. #Conservative is more than just a buzzword – it's a philosophy. Parents > Gov't https://t.co/R37coUqSV7
— Randan Marie Steinhauser (@RandanMarie) March 31, 2022
The choice to support candidates opposed to school choice and on the side of teacher unions is not particularly surprising to those who have followed the governor’s two terms in office.
While Abbott has at times flirted with the idea of supporting expanded school choice—previously attending rallies for the cause—he has stopped short of a full-throated endorsement of the policy. Earlier this year, when announcing his “Parental Bill of Rights,” expanded school choice was notably absent. This led the Texas Home School Coalition’s director of public policy, Jeremy Newman, to say he was “skeptical” of the governor’s push for parental rights.
“Every significant parental rights reform to pass the legislature since 2017 has done so without the support of Governor Abbott. Every parental rights legislative reform that has died has done so without his comment,” said Newman.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, meanwhile, has stated that he is for school choice as recently as this year, while a legislative priority of the Republican Party of Texas states that lawmakers should “empower parents and guardians to choose from public, private, charter, or homeschool options for their children’s education using tax credits or exemptions without government restraint or intrusion.”
Justin Berry faces former Austin Councilmember Ellen Troxclair in the runoff election, while Barron Casteel is running against nonprofit director Carrie Isaac. The runoff election will take place on May 24.
All of Abbott’s runoff endorsements may be viewed here.