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Greg Abbott banking on school choice issue to win votes but public school advocates push back

Opponents argue that voucher programs pull away from already underfunded public schools and private and charter schools are held to less accountability.

HOUSTON — Greg Abbott is locked in a heated race for governor against Beto O'Rourke and he’s hoping to get his base motivated on education issues.

The 48th governor of the Lone Star state is adopting a broader GOP campaign platform of school choice and vouchers to subsidize private school education.

But the move is bringing some criticism among public school advocates. They argue that voucher programs pull away from already underfunded public schools and private and charter schools are held to less accountability.

Abbott isn’t shying away from his support of allowing public tax dollars to go to private schools, including religious ones.

“I do believe that a robust school choice program that will allow parents to choose the school that is best for their child, even if it is a school like we're gathered in here today, this religious-based will be fully acceptable legally,” Abbott said.

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Gov. Abbott, who campaigned at a private religious school in Dallas Thursday, is hoping to frame the debate as giving power to parents to decide.

“Public schools are put together first and foremost for the public good,” Zeph Capo, the Texas American Federation of Teacher president said.

Public school organizations like the AFT aren’t buying what the governor is trying to sell.

“Frankly, vouchers primarily will be a tax break for those that are already wealthy those that can already afford to send their kids to private schooling and choose to do so,” Capo said.

Public school education advocates say the focus should be on fully funding education and vouchers have shown to be a failure in other states.

“They really haven’t worked out well. As a matter of fact, most of the evidence shows that it’s actually been a waste of money and it hasn’t actually improved education,” Capo said.

Abbott’s campaign is defending his school voucher push in a statement.  “Governor Abbott oversaw the largest increase ever in public school funding and will ensure full funding for public schools continues. The governor strongly believes parents deserve more involvement in their children’s education needs.”

Capo pushed back.

“You can’t cut back twice as much, add half as much back. and say that you’ve oversaw the largest increase, that frankly just disingenuous and not true.”

According to the United States Census, Texas is one of the lowest ranking states for per pupil spending in the nation. 

Abbott’s opponent Democrat Beto O’rourke is campaigning on an education platform that eliminates the mandatory STAAR test.

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