Lawmakers in the Texas House and Senate unanimously approved resolutions asserting Texas’ support for Israel Oct. 9.

The show of solidarity was overshadowed by rising animosity among Texas Republicans as lawmakers returned to Austin for the third special legislative session of the year. Gov. Greg Abbott tasked legislators with enacting “school choice,” increasing border security and prohibiting COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

What’s happening?

House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican, urged lawmakers and state leaders to distance themselves from the Defend Texas Liberty PAC following reports that the organization’s chair, former state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, hosted an hourslong meeting with a white supremacist.

Citing attacks on Israel by Hamas, Phelan condemned the group’s association with Nick Fuentes, a known Nazi sympathizer, and called on lawmakers to donate money they received from the PAC to charity. The Texas Tribune first reported on the meeting.

“This [is] not just a casual misstep. It’s indicative of the moral, political rot that has been festering in a certain segment of our party for far too long,” Phelan said in a statement. “Anti-Semitism, bigotry and Hitler apologists should find no sanctuary in the Republican party.”

Phelan specifically encouraged Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who received a $3 million donation from Defend Texas Liberty before Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial, to “lead the way in redirecting these funds.”

Hours later, Patrick called the speaker’s statement “a political stunt,” accusing Phelan of using “the atrocities in Israel for [his] own political gain.”

Patrick, in his own statement, denounced Fuentes and his antisemitic views while calling on Phelan to resign.

Phelan told reporters that afternoon he does not intend to resign and would focus on working with his fellow lawmakers to pass legislation to strengthen the border, increase funding for public schools and implement school choice.

School funding was not on the governor’s agenda for the special session, but leaders from both chambers have indicated it is a priority.

“School finance is very important to us,” Phelan said. “The governor knows this and he’s been working with us on an hourly basis.”Zooming out

School choice, a top priority for Abbott and other top Texas Republicans, has been a contentious issue for years. Abbott directed legislators on Oct. 5 to create an education savings account program, which would set aside taxpayer funds to help parents pay for private school tuition, books and more if they pull their children out of public school.

Abbott has called for school choice “for all Texas children.”

During the regular legislative session, the Senate passed legislation to give families $8,000 per student to help send them to private schools. Due to opposition from Democrats and rural Republicans, the bill was not approved by the House.

Public education advocates have argued that school choice programs would siphon money from public schools and largely benefit families who can already afford private schools.

“We will never get behind Gov. Abbott’s [school choice] scam that is really just welfare for the well-off,” Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, said during an Oct. 9 press conference.

Stay tuned

Lawmakers did not make progress on school choice measures Oct. 9, with the House briefly gaveling in before adjourning until Oct. 12. The Senate Finance Committee met for nearly three hours that evening to discuss Senate Bill 2, a proposal to send more money to public schools and raise teacher salaries.

Bill author Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, said education savings accounts were not tied to the school funding bill and would be considered separately.

The Senate Education Committee, which Creighton leads, is scheduled to meet at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 10. They will discuss SB 1, Creighton’s proposal to create an education savings account program.