Texas Gov. Greg Abbott previewed a push for school vouchers and more parental influence over curriculum as part of an effort to “empower parents” in his inaugural address Tuesday in Austin.
Abbott, a Republican who defeated former Rep. Beto O’Rourke to win a third term in November and is seen as a potential 2024 presidential candidate, delivered a speech outside the Capitol in Austin that was largely a forward-looking effort to contrast Texas with the rest of the United States.
He also used his third inaugural address to preview a push for school vouchers, property tax cuts and more in the upcoming months, at the outset of a legislative session in which Abbott and state lawmakers will decide what to do with a $33 billion budget surplus.
Abbott described Texas as a place of “freedom and opportunity” without the “high taxes, red tape, burdensome regulations” of Democratic-led states. He touted the conservative record that Abbott and the state’s Republican-dominated legislature have built over eight years.
Abbott did not offer details on what a voucher system would look like, but previewed such a push using language that mirrored other Republican governors in recent years.
Parents, Abbott said, “deserve the freedom to choose the education that’s best for their child.”
He also said schools are for “education, not indoctrination,” and suggested schools have in recent years been “pushing social agendas.”
“We must reform curriculum to get kids back to learning the basics and empower parents with the tools to challenge that curriculum when it falls short of expectations,” Abbott said.
Abbott made no direct mention of Uvalde, where a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in May 2022.
He vowed, in the state’s current legislative session, which lasts until May, to “prioritize protecting students and staff.”
“We must provide mental health services to students who need it. Parents must know that their children are safe when they drop them off every morning,” Abbott said. “We will not end this session without making our schools safer.”
He also called for “mandatory sentences on criminals caught with guns” – mirroring a proposal by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for 10-year minimum sentences.
Abbott also lambasted President Joe Biden for his administration’s handling of the US-Mexico border, and touted his own efforts to build a border wall.
“With the Biden Administration missing in actions, Texas is using every tool to protect our state,” Abbott said. “We are building a wall, deploying Texas National Guard soldiers and Department of Public Safety troopers to enforce the law, and targeting the Mexican drug cartels who traffic, people, weapons and drugs into our state.”
It was Patrick, rather than Abbott, who fleshed out many of the details of the proposals Abbott mentioned.
Patrick said the Senate planned to seek to raise the homestead exemption from $40,000 to $70,000, reducing the amount on which homeowners must pay property taxes. He also called for an exemption of $100,000 in business property, up from the current $2,500.
Without delving into details, he also previewed a push for school vouchers.
“The governor and I are all-in on school choice,” Patrick said.
And he said he would seek to extend a ban on critical race theory being discussed in classrooms from K-12 to include colleges.
“Our public professors are accountable to the taxpayer because you pay their salary,” said Patrick, who has pushed to end tenure at Texas public colleges and universities.
“I don’t want teachers in our colleges saying, ‘America is evil and capitalism is bad and socialism is better,’ ” he said. “And if that means some of those professors that want to teach that don’t come to Texas, I’m OK with that.”