Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is making a school voucher plan a top priority for a major education bill currently in the state House. Democratic state Rep. James Talarico is doing his best to make sure people understand that the plan is a giveaway to the wealthy.
Abbott’s plan would give $10,500 a year for families, including ones who can afford private school without government assistance, to send their kids to private school, including religious schools. At one committee hearing, Talarico used his time questioning a witness about the plan to show what a scam it is.
Talarico brought data—the overwhelming majorities of voucher students in other states who were already in private school when their families started getting state money—and a hypothetical that the witness had to admit was possible: that a wealthy CEO could get tens of thousands of dollars to send their kids to private school, “enough for a new Mercedes for that CEO, at the expense of my students on the westside of San Antonio,” Talarico, a former teacher, said, “and students in the Third Ward of Houston, and students in the Rio Grande Valley, and students in suburbs and small towns around this state.”
Abbott’s voucher plan is even drawing significant Republican opposition, while Abbott threatens to veto the entire bill and force the legislature into special sessions if he doesn’t get his way. Talarico showed just what Abbott is pushing so hard:
Talarico: This voucher scam is being pitched as “choice” for poor to working-class kids, but poor kids can’t get the voucher for a whole host of reasons that we’ve already touched on. Because they can’t get admission, because there aren’t enough private school seats, because they can’t cover the difference between the voucher and the tuition cost, or because the private school doesn’t provide transportation or special education services. In other states that have tried these scams, this has become a coupon for wealthy families to save on their private school bills. New Hampshire’s voucher program had similar prioritization as this bill. Do you know what percent of their voucher program has gone to kids already in private school?
Witness: No, sir. We don’t have that data.
Talarico: It’s 89%. Do you know what percentage of the recipients of Arizona’s voucher program were already in private school?
Witness: No, sir.
Talarico: Seventy-five percent. Do you know what percentage of the recipients of Wisconsin’s voucher program were already in private school?
Witness: No, sir.
Talarico: Seventy-six percent. So under this bill, is it true that a wealthy CEO sending his two kids to an elite, four-year, private high school would get more than $80,000 in taxpayer funds?
Witness: Presumably that’s over some period of time that you’re referring to.
Talarico: So it is possible?
Witness, turning back to aide: Mary, am I misspeaking? It’s a possibility, is it not? [Turning back to Talarico] I think that’s a possibility, yes sir.
Talarico: Okay. Well, that’s enough for a new Mercedes for that CEO, at the expense of my students on the west side of San Antonio, and students in the Third Ward of Houston, and students in the Rio Grande Valley, and students in suburbs and small towns around this state. This would be a massive transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top. If this passes, it’s welfare for the wealthy.
We talk about North Carolina non-stop on "The Downballot," so it's only natural that our guest on this week's episode is Anderson Clayton, the new chair of the state Democratic Party. Clayton made headlines when she became the youngest state party chair anywhere in the country at the age of 25, and the story of how she got there is an inspiring one. But what she's doing—and plans to do—is even more compelling. Her focus is on rebuilding the party infrastructure from the county level up, with the aim of reconnecting with rural Black voters who've too often been sidelined and making young voters feel like they have a political home. Plus: her long-term plan to win back the state Supreme Court.