Abbott touts Florida’s education success as reason for Texas to pass school choice

(The Center Square) – Texas should strive to have the best educational system in the country, Gov. Greg Abbott says, and that’s why he’s supporting school choice initiatives in the…

(The Center Square) – Texas should strive to have the best educational system in the country, Gov. Greg Abbott says, and that’s why he’s supporting school choice initiatives in the legislature.

“What’s our goal for public education in Texas?” he asked a crowd of business executives at a Houston Region Business Coalition lunch this week.

“It should be” to be the best in the country, he said. “No one’s ever said that before now. There seems to be ambiguity about what we want to achieve in education.”

There shouldn’t be ambiguity, Abbott argued, saying the future of Texas and America is “to educate our kids. We should have as a state a goal of nothing less than having the best public education system in the United States of America.

“We do not attain that goal without first stating that is going to be your goal,” he continued. “But then when you establish your goal you then look to what it is that we need to do to make sure that we are going to be able to achieve that goal.”

Abbott said he is advocating for school choice this legislative session because school choice initiatives in Florida worked and helped it become one of the top education states in the country.

“Twenty years ago, in 2002, Florida embarked upon school choice in its state and at that time students who were coming from low-income families were testing on national tests as one of the worst in the country,” he said. “Now 20 years later, they test among the top, among the best in the country.”

“What school choice does … is ensure competition in the education place and public schools in Florida are doing better,” Abbott continued. “Private schools in Florida are doing better. Homeschooling in Florida is doing better. Across the board, education is better.”

Florida outranks Texas in nearly every education category. Florida ranks first, Texas ranks 21st, for parental involvement in education, according to the most recent Center for Education Reform Parent Power Index. A recent Heritage Foundation Education Freedom Report Card ranks Florida first and Texas 12th. The Nation’s Report Card ranked Florida 5th and Texas 14th for their respective fourth- and eighth-grade students’ math and reading scores in 2022.

School choice is a “component of multiple aspects to improve education,” Abbott said.

He also addressed the criticism often heard that school choice defunds public schools.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “That’s just factually incorrect.”

He pointed to the record level of funding for public schools since he’s been governor, saying, “I’ve authorized more funding for public education than any governor in the history of this state. I’ve authorized more funding for teachers pay raises than any governor in the history of the state of Texas.

“Per student funding for public schools is at an all-time high,” he added. “This session we’re going to have more money for public schools and teacher pay raises.”

Abbott said Texas’ public schools are more fully funded today than ever, but noting that “spending more money doesn’t always lead to the best results. We’ve got to get the best results,” which includes expanding school choice options.

As the governor has traveled throughout the state meeting with parents, he said he’s heard the same story everywhere: one size education doesn’t fit all.

He recalled the example of a family from Giddings, Texas, from which each child needed different learning environments. One attended a public school, one attended a private school, and one was homeschooled. “The pathway was the right one for each of them,” Abbott said. “That was in one family. Think about what it’s like for all kids in Texas. One size does not fit all.”

“No one in government knows better than mom and dad about which education option is the best education option is best for their child,” he added. He also said the legislature will deliver parental rights options this legislative session.

The state Senate passed the most expansive parental rights bill in Texas history last week, which has been sent to the House. On the same day as the Senate vote, 24 House Republicans voted against funding ESA and other school choice programs in a budget maneuver, setting up a battle between Republicans over the governor’s key legislative priority.