School choice’s Texas-size victory

(The Daily Signal) – Republican primary voters in Texas sent a clear message on Super Tuesday: “We want school choice!”

The Texas House of Representatives last year failed to pass a…

(The Daily Signal) – Republican primary voters in Texas sent a clear message on Super Tuesday: “We want school choice!”

The Texas House of Representatives last year failed to pass a school choice bill even after Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, repeatedly called the lawmakers back into special session. Twenty-one Texas House Republicans joined with all House Democrats to defeat the school choice proposal.

In response, Abbott took a page out of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ book. If the Legislature wouldn’t support school choice—which had the support of 88% of Texas Republican voters—then he would find a new Legislature.

When the Iowa Legislature voted down Reynolds’ education savings account proposal in 2022, she endorsed nine pro-school choice candidates who were challenging anti-school choice incumbents. Eight of them won.

The following year, the Iowa Legislature quickly passed the Republican governor’s school choice proposal, becoming the first state that year (and the third overall) to enact a universal school choice policy.

In Texas, Abbott endorsed 16 challengers to incumbents who had opposed his school choice proposal. Five others—likely seeing the writing on the wall—did not seek reelection. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Wednesday: “Abbott-backed challengers appear to have beaten six incumbents, with four more headed for runoffs. Six incumbents appear to have survived.”

Additionally, in open races without incumbents, Abbott-endorsed candidates won in four races, while two are headed to runoffs. None lost.

The school choice movement also may claim victory. The American Federation for Children’s associated super PAC, the AFC Victory Fund, engaged in 13 of 16 races Tuesday involving incumbents who oppose school choice. Ten of the 13 won or forced the incumbents into runoffs.

“School choice opponents in the Texas House played stupid games and won stupid prizes,” said school choice activist Corey DeAngelis, a senior fellow at the American Federation for Children. “This week’s election was a mandate for school choice in Texas.”

Both Reynolds and Abbott recognized something that the Republicans who oppose school choice had missed: The GOP base increasingly has embraced the issue of school choice, so much so that it is now a litmus-test issue. As DeAngelis and I observed in 2022:

For Republicans, school choice has emerged as a litmus-test issue on par with being pro-life. Indeed, GOP primary voters in Texas displayed higher support for a pro-school-choice ballot proposition (88 percent) than a pro-life one (83 percent). Likewise, recent polling of Republicans in Oklahoma found even higher levels of support for school choice (78 percent) than for pro-life policies (68 percent).

In recent primaries, GOP voters threw their support to candidates who supported choice, even if it meant tossing out otherwise conservative incumbents. […]

Candidates endorsed by American Federation for Children Action Fund and its affiliates won their primaries or advanced to runoffs in 38 of 48 races in TexasArkansasIdahoGeorgia, and Nebraska so far this year.

Conservative parents have had it with government-run schools that put boys in the girls’ locker rooms and porn in the school libraries; indoctrinate students by dividing everyone into “oppressors” and “the oppressed” based on immutable characteristics; segregate students by race; teach that there is an infinite number of genders; and keep secrets from parents about their children’s mental and emotional health.

Parents recognize that school choice policies give them an immediate escape hatch when their local district school adopts woke policies. School choice also gives them more negotiating power with the local school board and school administration, because it means they are no longer a captive audience.

That’s why, all across the country, Republican primary voters have been replacing incumbents who have lost touch with the base on this core issue with challengers who support empowering families with school choice.

Opponents of school choice have been doing everything they can do to reverse this trend. As education columnist Tony Kinnett detailed Monday in The Daily Signal, teachers unions poured money into the Texas Republican primary races to protect incumbents who oppose school choice:

The two largest Texas teachers unions, the Texas State Teachers Association and the Texas Federation of Teachers, and at least two associated PACs have spent $343,239 on Republican primaries between 2018 and 2024.

Zeph Capo, president of the Texas Federation of Teachers, urged teachers in a March 1 letter to vote for 16 Texas House GOP incumbents who have taken union donations and “stood against Gov. [Greg] Abbott’s voucher push last year.” […] Sixteen House incumbents have received between $3,000 and $25,000 for their primaries so far this year from various PACs and union-associated organizations.

(The Daily Signal is The Heritage Foundation’s news and commentary outlet.)

Yes, those were the same 16 Republican incumbents whom Abbott had opposed.

One of them was incumbent state Rep. Glenn Rogers, who outspent GOP primary challenger Michael Olcott by about 3-to-1, yet Olcott beat Rogers by a margin of nearly 2-to-1.

Likewise, incumbent state Rep. Hugh Shine outspent challenger Hillary Hickland by 6-to-1, but Hickland beat Shine by a margin of 53% to 39.5%.

Perhaps the most-watched legislative race of the night concerned Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican who bragged about getting the teachers union endorsement in 2022. Although Phelan significantly outspent his opponent, he captured only 43% of the vote. He’s now headed to a runoff against GOP challenger David Covey, who garnered 46% of the vote.

The prospects that Texas will adopt a robust school choice proposal improved significantly with Tuesday’s results. “It looks like we will have the votes for universal school choice in Texas next session,” DeAngelis said.

The school choice momentum continues.