Texas Democrats to focus on GOP’s education record in the upcoming November elections

Democrats in Texas are focusing on education matters to win control of numerous state House districts in the upcoming elections, aiming to hold GOP legislators accountable for teacher shortages, school shutdowns, and to rally their supporters against Governor Greg Abbott’s prominent school voucher program.

During the Texas Democratic Convention in El Paso last week, the party emphasized their opposition to Abbott’s proposal to use public funds for private school tuition, citing his success in removing members of his own party who opposed the vouchers. They are now targeting battleground House races in their efforts to combat this policy.

State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, a Democrat from Austin leading the House Democrats’ campaign, emphasized the need to elect a few more Democrats to the Texas House to block vouchers and stand up for public schools in the community.

“To put it another way, we need to elect about three more Democrats to the Texas House to defeat vouchers and defend our neighborhood public schools,” she stated.

Historically, Democrats and rural Republicans in the House have joined forces to oppose diverting state funds for private schooling. Critics argue that the vouchers would drain resources from public schools facing severe teacher shortages and financial deficits, compounded by lawmakers’ failure to utilize the state’s substantial $33 billion budget surplus to enhance school funding last year.

The electoral battlefield this cycle primarily focuses on districts in the Dallas and San Antonio suburbs and South Texas, areas with struggling schools where Democrats aim to resonate with voters on public education issues.

One key target is GOP state Rep. John Lujan, who secured his Bexar County district in 2022 by 4 percentage points, despite Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke carrying the district by 2 points over Abbott.

Kristian Carranza, Lujan’s Democratic opponent, highlighted public education and the voucher conflict as the top concerns of voters in the district, which includes beleaguered school districts like Harlandale ISD, which recently closed four elementary schools due to financial challenges.

Republican lawmakers, including Abbott, argue that parents deserve the option to remove their children from the public school system, criticizing the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns over educational content as reasons for offering vouchers.

Democrats are countering the Republican narrative by accusing voucher opponents in the House of impeding a bill that would have allocated billions to public schools. The bill was withdrawn after Democrats and some Republicans removed vouchers from the package, prompted by Abbott’s veto threat against education funding lacking this provision.

According to Abbott spokesperson Andrew Mahaleris, Democrats prioritizing voucher opposition are aligning with teacher unions rather than representing the interests of Texans.

Joshua Blank from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin noted that Democrats’ strategy aims to refocus the education debate on school funding rather than curriculum content to regain ground on public education issues.

Recent Republican measures in Texas have targeted the content of school libraries and the teaching of race and racism in public schools, extending restrictions to public events like drag queen story hours.

Republicans have criticized Texas Democrats for including a drag queen in their convention and aim to counter the liberal indoctrination narrative pushed by Abbott in the context of school vouchers.

Democratic candidate Averie Bishop in Dallas County is leveraging her experience as a substitute teacher to challenge Rep. Angie Chen Button, highlighting the struggles of Texas public schools and vowing to prevent the passage of school vouchers.

Democrats also eye gaining the San Antonio seat, now held by Marc LaHood following the defeat of moderate Republican Steve Allison in the primary, as an additional opportunity to further their push against school vouchers.

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer emphasized the likelihood of Democrats making significant strides in the district given the contrast in views between Allison and LaHood and the makeup of independent and educated voters.

LaHood defended parental choice in education, maintaining that empowering parents in selecting the best educational environment for their children should not be a partisan issue.

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