As the Texas House has slow-rolled school choice this year, a Republican state representative claimed that Texas parents already have school choice.

Republican State Rep. Drew Darby of San Angelo made the claim during an interview with WFAA. 

“They have successfully tried to market this as school choice. Who would be against school choice? It’s a nomenclature that everybody can support. Everybody supports the ability of parents to decide where their kids go to school. But the reality is, we have that choice now,” he said. 

Darby’s argument hinged around his idea that because parents can choose to send their children to private or parochial schools, they therefore have a choice. He also labeled the effort to provide parents with school choice the end result of a “coordinated attack on our public schools.”  He claimed that the state has been defunding government schools over time. 

School choice advocate Corey DeAngelis told Texas Scorecard that Darby is trying to change the meaning of school choice to gaslight his constituents. 

“​​So-called ‘Republican’ Drew Darby said that because he’s trying to come up with an excuse to vote against his own party platform,” said DeAngelis. “He is gaslighting voters with a pathetic attempt to redefine ‘school choice’ so he can have his cake and eat it too. But voters aren’t as stupid as Mr. Darby apparently believes them to be. We all know school choice initiatives allow the funding meant for educating the child to follow them to the education provider that best meets their needs and aligns with their family’s values.”

In his interview, Darby made his opposition to the proposed school choice clear. 

“I find objectionable taking public dollars out of public schools and supporting private or parochial schools that don’t have the same accountabilities, don’t have the same testing, don’t have the same transparency, and quite frankly don’t have open enrollment policies,” said Darby. 

Another point Darby made regarded money. “In my opinion, it’s just wrong to take money out of what I consider the primary obligation of the legislature, and that is to fund a free and efficient public, free school system,” he said. 

DeAngelis disagrees. “It is widely understood that ‘school choice’ refers to policies allowing education funding to follow the child to the education provider of their choosing. Drew Darby disingenuously claims the status quo is ‘school choice’ as other red states are passing policies that actually empower parents,” he told Texas Scorecard. “His willful ignorance would be laughable if it didn’t have the real consequence of trapping kids in failing government schools. It’s peak gaslighting. There’s no better way to describe what Drew Darby is doing.” 

When asked how his opposition to Education Savings Accounts—the form of school choice currently being considered by state lawmakers—will affect his reelection efforts in March, Darby said he doesn’t think it will. 

“I think the folks in my district know me, they know how strong of a supporter and an advocate I am for our area of the state and for our schools. I’m on firm ground, polling indicates that,” said Darby. “I’m not driven by polls, but I feel strongly that I can defend our position to support public schools back home and not think twice about it.”

Last year, 86 percent of Republican primary voters in Darby’s district voted for school choice on ballot Proposition Nine. The proposition stated that “Texas parents and guardians should have the right to select schools, whether public or private, for their children, and the funding should follow the student.”

Josh Posey, a parent and school choice advocate, told Texas Scorecard that Darby’s position is baffling. 

Representative Darby’s position on education savings accounts is nothing short of heart-wrenching for countless households across the state. It’s baffling that he fails to recognize the transformative potential of education savings accounts, which put the power in the hands of students and parents while cutting out the likes of Rep. Darby who wants to play king over them.

Posey believes that Darby may be “prioritizing his Austin-based donors” over his voters. “His affiliations with organizations like TASB [Texas Association of School Boards] and his acceptance of left-leaning financial support raise concerns about whose interests he truly serves. Perhaps it’s time for Rep. Darby to come back to the Republican party and to refocus on representing the will of the people, what’s best for children, and the future of Texas,” he added.

Currently, in the third special legislative session, the Texas Senate has passed Senate Bill 1, which would create $8,000 in educational savings accounts for students. However, it has been sitting in the Texas House’s Educational Opportunity and Enrichment Committee awaiting a hearing. 

On Tuesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced that after discussions with House Speaker Dade Phelan and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, he was expanding the special session call. In the new call, there will be billions more in taxpayer funding for Texas government schools, including teacher pay raises and school safety. Additionally, the amount of money participating students will be eligible for in their Education Savings Accounts will be “approximately $10,400 per year.”

The third special session expires on November 7.

Emily Medeiros

Emily graduated from the University of Oklahoma majoring in Journalism. She is excited to use her research and writing skills to report on important issues around Texas.