On Monday, the office of the Attorney General of Texas, led by Ken Paxton, issued an opinion stating that school choice is constitutional in the state of Texas.
Programs that “allow for education funds to follow students to the school of their choosing, including private, religious, and homeschooling options” are referred to as “school choice,” which is also sometimes referred to as “school vouchers.”
Attorney General Ken Paxton
The announcement was made the day before a rally in support of school choice was scheduled to take place at the state capitol, and it came just a few days before a state senate committee was scheduled to hear public testimony on two bills related to school choice.
“Texas parents should have the right to choose the best school for their kids, and every Texas child deserves the opportunity to attend a good, safe school where they can learn and thrive,” Paxton said in a statement. “(The legal opinion) informs the Texas Legislature that there are no constitutional barriers to enacting school choice in Texas.”
Additionally, in Paxton’s opinion, Gov. Greg Abbott’s original suggestion of Education Savings Accounts is also legal. ESAs allow parents to receive a deposit of public funds into government-approved savings accounts after removing their children from public or charter schools, much like Health Savings Accounts do. Those funds may fund only educational purposes.
Furthermore, it was found that two Blaine Amendments in the Texas Constitution, which could bar religious schools from receiving ESA program funding, are unconstitutional because they violate the First Amendment’s guarantee of “freedom of religion or belief.” This interpretation of the law makes it possible for religious institutions to receive ESA funding.
Tuesday, at a rally supporting school choice at the capitol, Abbott pledged that the state would fully fund public education while allowing parents to choose the best educational path for their family.
“More money does not always lead to better results, and more money does not solve the problems that some parents are facing with regard to their children and some of their schools,” Abbott said. “We’re going to change education in Texas, and the children will be the beneficiaries with a better education product.”
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Passing school choice legislation is a top priority for Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick this session. Patrick stated in a statement on Monday that Paxton’s opinion is “not surprising, but it is still great news for all Texans” after the opinion was released.
“All Texas children deserve an education that best fits their needs, and parents should not be forced to send their children to schools that they do not believe are best for their child,” he said.
Numerous recent polls, including those conducted by The University of Texas at Tyler and the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs, reveal that the majority of Texans support school choice programs.
But advocates for education are opposed to any voucher or school choice program. They assert that they are worried that some programs will financially hurt public school districts, which struggle to pay teachers a living wage and offer robust curricula.
Brandon Waltens tweeted that In response to an inquiry from says school choice there is “no constitutional barrier prohibiting school choice in Texas. You can see below:
Inbox: In response to inquiry from @CreightonForTX, Attorney General @KenPaxtonTX says school choice is there is "no constitutional barrier prohibiting school choice in Texas" #txlege #txed pic.twitter.com/PmBxeBuBE0
— Brandon Waltens (@bwaltens) March 20, 2023
The timing or content of the opinion hasn’t stopped the Association of Texas Professional Educators from informing lawmakers about the issues they see with school choice, according to Kate Johanns, director of communications for the organization.
“An AG opinion, which is the non-binding opinion of one person, that deems vouchers constitutionally permissible doesn’t make them a good idea or something Texans want,” Johanns said. “Our members have been actively contacting their lawmakers to explain the detrimental effects vouchers will have on their students and their campuses. The decision makers need to keep the focus on Texas students.”
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