In its first meeting that included its six newly elected members, the Texas State Board of Education voted to rescind its previous opposition to efforts to expand school choice.

The withdrawal comes as the topic of school choice has hit new heights in the Texas Legislature.

On February 3, shortly after Gov. Greg Abbott administered the oath of office to all 15 new and returning members (10 Republicans, five Democrats), the board voted 8-5 to revise its list of legislative recommendations to the Texas Legislature. The initial list was approved during the SBOE’s prior meeting only a week after the statewide election last November.

The revision removed the following statement from the SBOE’s legislative recommendations:

The Texas State Board of Education calls on the Texas Legislature to reject all attempts to divert public dollars away from public schools in the form of vouchers, an education savings account, taxpayer savings grants, tuition-tax credits, a business franchise tax credit or an insurance premium tax credit, or any other mechanisms that have the effect of reducing funding to public schools.

All five Democrat members opposed removing the anti-school choice language, while Chairman Keven Ellis (R–Lufkin) and Evelyn Brooks (R–Frisco) abstained. All other Republicans voted in favor of the move.

In November, however, board members voted 11-2 to approve the original version of legislative recommendations—including the anti-school choice language. That vote consisted of five Republicans and each of the then-six Democrats in favor, and Republicans Tom Maynard (Florence) and Will Hickman (Houston) in opposition. Patricia Hardy (R–Fort Worth) and Ellis abstained from voting.

A week prior to the November meeting, however, voters chose replacements for six of the members (three Republicans, three Democrats) who approved the initial legislative recommendations.

  • Julie Pickren (R–Pearland) was elected in place of Republican Matt Robinson, who did not run for re-election
  • Aaron Kinsey (R–Midland) was elected in place of Republican Jay Johnson, who lost his primary election to Kinsey
  • Evelyn Brooks (R–Frisco) was elected in place of Republican Sue Melton-Malone, who lost her primary election to Brooks
  • LJ Francis (R–Corpus Christi) was elected in place of Democrat Ruben Cortez, who lost his primary election
  • Melissa N. Ortega (D–El Paso) was elected in place of Democrat Georgina Perez, who did not run for re-election
  • Staci Childs (D–Houston) was elected in place of Democrat Lawrence Allen Jr., who lost his primary election to Childs

While the revised recommendations don’t explicitly endorse school choice legislation, the SBOE is no longer putting its thumb on the scale in the upcoming showdown on the issue. Previously, the board’s position aligned with that of several organizations blatantly opposed to school choice, including the Texas Association of School Boards, the Texas State Teachers Association, the Association of Texas Professional Educators, the Texas Association of School Administrators, and Raise Your Hand Texas (a public education advocacy group founded by Charles Butt, the CEO of Texas grocery store chain H-E-B).

SBOE Chairman Keven Ellis said he didn’t think the board should take sides in the battle over school choice. “There’s going to be a very rich and robust debate over this in the Legislature, and because of that, I’ve felt it was appropriate to reconsider this item and let that rich and robust debate happen at the Legislature,” he explained.

Aicha Davis, one of the Democrat members who voted against the removal, lamented the decision. “What happened to that bravery and that stance for public education that happened in November?” she said. “I don’t understand how we’re here.”

LJ Francis, one of the new Republican members elected to the board, said he doesn’t think giving parents options is a threat to public schools. “If you want school choice, you’re not an enemy to public education,” he said. “Parents want the ability to choose if they want to send their child to a different school.”

A few days before the SBOE’s recent meeting, Gov. Abbott announced his support for state-funded education savings accounts, which families could use to pay for their children’s education if they opt out of the state’s public school system.

The board’s next meeting is scheduled for April. Texans can let their SBOE member know what they think about the issue of school choice using the Texas Scorecard Elected Officials Directory.

The 15 members of the Texas State Board of Education are:

Darrell Frost

Since graduating from Hillsdale College, Darrell has held key roles in winning political campaigns, managed a state legislator's Capitol office, and taught at a classical charter school. He enjoys participating in outdoor activities, playing the harmonica, and learning about the latest scientific developments.