School choice candidates win big in Texas Republican primary

(The Center Square) – Candidates who support school choice won big in Republican primaries Tuesday night in Texas. The majority of Republican primary voters also passed a nonbinding proposition supporting school choice.

School choice was a major issue on the ballot after 21 Republican members of the House voted last year to kill a school choice measure and House Republicans refused to vote on an education bill the Senate repeatedly passed with bipartisan support to create the state’s first Education Savings Account program.

Throughout the primary season, Gov. Greg Abbott endorsed and campaigned for candidates who he says support school choice, including those who challenged incumbent Republicans that Abbott previously endorsed. Nearly all of his endorsed candidates won or forced incumbents to a runoff.

Six incumbent Republicans lawmakers who opposed school choice lost outright. Four more were forced into a runoff election by pro-school choice candidates. Four pro-school choice candidates won their races in open seats.

The American Federation for Children’s PAC, AFC Victory Fund, said the election was “the largest political shift toward school choice in Texas history.” Its CEO, Tommy Schultz, said, “The Texas victories for school choice will be known as a massive moment in American politics. Despite decades of resistance from the education establishment, voters made clear that they want school choice, and they will remove legislators who stand in their way.”

AFC Victory Fund endorsed pro-school choice Texas House candidates and spent more than $4.5 million on their races “to defeat Texas House members who voted to kill Gov. Abbott’s school choice plan during the 2023 legislative special sessions.”

The PAC said the pro-school choice candidates “will put kids first and empower parents with the right to choose the best education for their children” as opposed to candidates who “side with union-controlled special interests.”

Teachers unions fought the school choice measures.

Incumbent state House Republicans who lost their primary election Tuesday night, targeted as anti-school choice, were:

  • Steve Allison (HD-121), defeated by Marc LaHood;
  • Ernest Bailes (HD-18), defeated by Janis Holt;
  • Rep. Travis Clardy (HD-11), defeated by Joan Shofner;
  • Glenn Rogers (HD-60), defeated by Mike Olcott;
  • Hugh Shine (HD-55), defeated by Hillary Hickland;
  • Reggie Smith (HD-62), defeated by Shelley Luther

Abbott endorsed LaHood, Holt, Shofner, Olcott and Hickland. He endorsed no HD 62 candidates.

Four incumbent Republican state House representatives targeted as being anti-school choice were forced into a runoff. They include:

  • DeWayne Burns (HD-58)
  • Justin Holland (HD-33)
  • John Kuempel (HD-44)
  • Gary VanDeaver (HD-1)

Burns received fewer votes than his top challenger in a three-way race, Helen Kerwin, who received 48.9% of the vote. Because neither received 50%, they are headed to a runoff.

Holland also received fewer votes than his top challenger in a three-way race, Katrina Pierson, who received 39.45% of the vote. The two, who’ve run a contentious race, are headed to a runoff.

Kuempel also received fewer votes than his top challenger in a four-way race, Alan Schoolcraft, who received 48.11% of the vote. They are headed to a runoff.

VanDeaver received more votes than his challengers in a three-way race. He and his top challenger, Chris Spencer, are headed for a runoff.

Abbott endorsed Kerwin, Schoolcraft and Spencer. He endorsed no candidates in HD 33.

Pro-school choice candidates who won their primary races in open seats were Paul Dyson (HD-14), Caroline Fairly (HD-87), Brent Money (HD-2) and Wes Virdell (HD-53).

Among them, Abbott endorsed Dyson, Fairly and Money.

Some Republican pro-school choice candidates were forced into a runoff Tuesday, including state Rep. Stephanie Klick (HD 91), who is endorsed by Abbott.

According to a University of Houston poll of Republican primary voters, 60% said they were less likely to vote for an incumbent who voted against school choice; 58% living in rural counties said they would vote against an opponent of school choice. The majority of Republican primary voters polled, 64%, said they want the Texas legislature to pass a school choice bill that will benefit all Texas families.

Last year, state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, introduced two companion education bills in the regular legislative session and subsequent special sessions. Both passed the Senate with bipartisan support only to be killed by House Republicans under the leadership of House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont.

Republican voters in his district, HD 21, forced Phelan into a runoff election Tuesday night.

Republican primary voters also passed Proposition 11, “Texas parents and guardians should have the right to select schools, whether public or private, for their children, and the funding should follow the student,” by a vote of 79.54% to 20.46%.

The primary runoff election is May 28. Early voting is from May 20-24.

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