Two of Texas’ top decision-makers, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, expressed confidence that state lawmakers will approve a private school voucher plan next year.

Speaking on March 20 at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation’s annual conference in Austin, Abbott said school voucher supporters were “on the threshold of success” after several anti-voucher Republicans were unseated or sent to tight runoffs in the March 5 primary election.

Abbott led the charge to oust over a dozen Texas House Republicans, who are largely from rural communities, after they voted against his voucher plan last fall. He said lawmakers were “fighting against” their constituents by rejecting vouchers.

The big picture

Rural House Republicans have repeatedly joined forces with Democrats to block a controversial voucher program, which would give families public dollars to send their children to private schools. Opponents say vouchers would strip public schools, which are funded based on attendance, of critical funding.

Abbott, Patrick and other pro-voucher Republicans argue the program would empower parents to pull their children out of underperforming schools and access expanded education options.

“We are now at 74 votes in favor of school choice in the state of Texas. But 74 does not equal 76,” Abbott said, referring to the number of votes needed to pass a bill in the House. “If you look at the way the primary vote turned out, who’s in the runoff and what the percentages look like, we should be able to win that.”

The Texas Senate approved vouchers several times throughout 2023, largely on party lines. But the proposal only reached the House floor once and was shot down.

“We passed it five times in the Senate,” Patrick said during a March 21 speech at TPPF’s conference. "It’s about time school choice passes so we can save our children from the woke culture in schools. We will not accept defeat.”

Looking ahead

Patrick said he expected lawmakers to adopt a voucher plan in February 2025. That means Abbott would have to designate vouchers as an emergency item to bypass a constitutional rule preventing Texas lawmakers from passing legislation during the first 60 days of a regular legislative session. The 89th legislative session is scheduled to begin on Jan. 14.

Vouchers were one of Abbott’s seven emergency priorities for the 2023 session.

“If that bill doesn’t pass, I’m not signing another bill all session,” Patrick said to cheers from his audience.

All legislation must be signed by Patrick, who oversees the Senate, and the speaker of the House before it heads to Abbott’s desk. The governor has the final say on which bills are signed into law.

More details

Abbott and Patrick also touted property tax cuts, border security initiatives and legislation that prohibits public universities from establishing diversity, equity and inclusion offices. Lawmakers spent a historic 246 days at the capitol—including the 140-day regular legislative session and four special sessions—in 2023.

“When America looks for leadership, they look to Texas, because we are the last line of freedom and liberty in this country,” Patrick said.

Texas is currently sparring with the federal government over Senate Bill 4, a controversial immigration law that would allow Texas police to arrest migrants suspected of illegally crossing the border and empower judges to deport them.

The migrant deportation law is on hold after a series of whiplash court rulings. A federal appeals court held a hearing on SB 4 March 20, but did not immediately make a decision on whether the law could be enforced.