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Gov. Greg Abbott Says Texas is Two House Votes Away from Passing School Vouchers

Abbott called on supporters to push through the primary runoffs to deliver the final pro-voucher members needed to pass his legislation.

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during the opening keynote lunch at the Texas Public Policy Foundation Texas Policy Summit 2024 in Austin on March 20, 2024. Gov. Abbott spoke about border security and cartels, school choice for parents of Texas children and the ban of DEI at Texas universities. (Maria Crane/Texas Tribune)

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Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday urged school voucher supporters to make the final push in the May primary runoff elections to bring a pro-school voucher majority to the Texas House.

Delivering the opening speech at an annual conservative policy conference in Austin, Abbott declared that the school voucher movement was “on the threshold of success” after the March 5 primary. The election saw several anti-voucher Republican incumbents lose to pro-voucher challengers, putting pro-voucher members on the verge of a majority in the Texas House, the last legislative roadblock to the policy.

“We are now at 74 votes in favor of school choice in the state of Texas. Which is good, but 74 does not equal 76,” Abbott said, referring to the number of votes he needs to pass the bill into law. “We need two more votes.”

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, which hosts the annual Texas Policy Summit where Abbott spoke, embarked with Abbott more than a year ago on a “parent empowerment” campaign to bring school vouchers to Texas, holding events across the state to rally voters behind their effort. However, the pro-voucher campaign is running out of time to chip away at the anti-voucher side, as Abbott says the final vote count on school vouchers in next year’s legislative session will be decided in this year’s primary runoffs.

“This is not a time for you to sit on the sidelines and applaud the success that we’ve achieved,” Abbott said. “This is a time when all of us must come together, redouble our efforts knowing that the final vote count is going to be determined by what happens in just two months from now.”

The May 28 Republican primary runoffs carry more opportunities for the “school choice” movement to pick up more voucher-supporting members, and Abbott said “we should be able to win that.” However, those votes aren’t guaranteed, and that tally assumes no surprises in the general election in November.

Abbott likened the effort to get a majority to a football game in which the outcome could be decided by a single kick.

“We don’t want to rely upon a field-goal kicker,” Abbott said. “We want to make sure that, when these runoffs are over at the end of May, that we are ahead by more than two points, or three points or four points.”

Abbott’s campaign began as an effort to motivate voters and win legislative support among members. But after the House voted to kill his voucher proposal, he shifted to an election campaign against anti-voucher Republicans. The governor endorsed 11 challengers to anti-voucher incumbents. Abbott backed his most recent endorsee, Katrina Pierson, after she earned a plurality against state Rep. Justin Holland, R-Rockwall, and kicked off his runoff campaign tour on Tuesday at an event supporting Pierson.

House leadership, including Speaker Dade Phelan and the Republican caucus campaign apparatus, are financially backing Holland and his fellow anti-voucher incumbents. However, not everyone in leadership is supporting the anti-voucher members.

At a Texas Policy Summit panel that immediately followed Abbott’s speech, state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, said he’s tired of “playing nice” on negotiating for anything other than “full universal” vouchers.

“I hope every one of the people that win that runoff are pro-school choice, and if you’re supported by a teacher union, I don’t want you back,” Cain said. “It’s that easy.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy.

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