Abbott’s Voucher Allies Land New State Education Roles

Abbott’s Voucher Allies Land New State Education Roles
Photo by Kenny Eliason / Unsplash

Last week at an event for a rightwing policy organization, Greg Abbott maintained his strong support for vouchers. Under the banner of “school choice,” vouchers allow parents or guardians to send their kids to private schools through taxpayer dollars.

Abbott called four special sessions last year to try and pass a pro-voucher bill, but the legislation received pushback not just back from Democrats, but many Republicans from rural districts. In many rural parts of Texas, a local public school can be one of the largest employers. And many Republican state legislators from those areas balked at passing legislation that could take away funds from their public schools.

While Abbott and his allies could not pass a pro-voucher bill in those four special sessions, they look to be on the verge of achieving their goal after the March primaries saw many of the rural opponents of school choice bills either losing or being forced into a runoff. Speaking to a crowd at the Texas Public Policy Summit last week, Abbott proclaimed they were just two votes away from passing a pro-voucher agenda in Texas. 

At the rightwing conference, Abbott also announced two new plum gigs for staunch voucher allies: State Rep. Brad Buckley and State Senator Brandon Creighton. Buckley and Creighton are now appointees to the Education Commission of the States (ECS). The Commission is over fifty years old and serves as an “interstate compact on education policy.”

Both Buckley and Creighton were the authors of pro-voucher bills. On X, Abbott specifically cited Creighton for helping pass a bill in the Senate during the third special session (which did not pass the House). Buckley was the primary author of House Bill 1 during the fourth special session, which attempted to link vouchers to teacher bonuses and increased funding for public schools.

As Abbott waits for the May runoff that will likely put him over the edge in terms of having enough legislators to pass his long-awaited pro-voucher legislation, Creighton and Buckley will remain on this pivotal Education Commission. There is no expiration to their terms as they serve at the “pleasure of the Governor.” 

Outside of the voucher issue, Abbott frequently uses his power of gubernatorial appointments to reward loyal supporters. Last year Abbott re-appointed one of his biggest donors, Javaid Anwar, to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Anwar is the owner and president of Midland Energy, Inc., Petroplex Energy, Inc., and the Western T. Corporation. 

In 2022, The Texas Tribune spotlighted the 39 donors that have given Abbott over $1 million. At the time, Anwar had donated $6.3 million. Anwar was first appointed to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in 2015. With his re-appointment, Anwar will serve until 2027 on the influential Board that dates back to 1965. 

According to federal disclosure forms, from 2013 to 2023, Abbott accepted 30 in-kind donations from Anwar for aircraft usage and plane expenses. The trips totaled over $340,000. The latest trip was October 18, 2023 from St. Louis to Arlington, where the Texas Rangers were playing the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series.