Gov. Abbott responds to criticism of school voucher program

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has said that one of his priorities this year is the concept of school choice.

Part of the governor's idea is to establish education savings accounts, which would allow parents to opt out of local school districts and directly receive state money that would usually go to their child's school.

Public educators and even some rural Republicans have pushed back against the concept.

READ MORE: What you should know about education savings accounts, the voucher-like program championed by Gov. Greg Abbott

Gov. Abbott sat down with FOX 4's Steven Dial and answered questions about how he thinks the plan should work and why he thinks it is the best direction for the state.

How will education savings accounts work?

Much of the criticism of the education savings accounts is that a decrease in funding could put a strain on public schools.

"Some people say this is going to cause schools to shut down, that is very uninformed. Because we’ve seen more than 350,000 students leave public schools and go to charter schools and what we haven’t seen is public schools close down. And we certainly haven’t seen any effect on high school football," said Gov. Abbott.

READ MORE: Debate over school vouchers continues in Texas

Ten states have education savings account programs in place, and many others have legislation to add them.

"These education savings accounts have proven to be very successful in other states and I created one in the State of Texas for special needs students that worked very well. So much so that the legislature wanted to expand it to provide more funding towards it," Gov. Abbott explained.

How will private schools be held accountable?

One of the critics of the education savings accounts was Dallas ISD superintendent Stephanie Elizalde.

Ahead of Governor Abbott's State of the State address she tweeted that if the legislature passes school vouchers, private schools should be held to the same standard as public schools.

[STEVEN DIAL: "How can that happen if they are private? They can't be held to a state standard, can they?"]

"They can be held to accountability standards. The way it would be structured, it would be a third party in charge of ensuring accountability will be upheld. The state can impose accountability for any institution that receives this money so yeah, accountability will apply," Gov. Abbott responded.

How will Gov. Abbott win over the opposition?

This is not the first time that education savings accounts will go up for debate in the Texas Legislature.

A bill passed the Texas Senate in 2017, but failed in the House.

"Two things are different. One is we know for a fact, Republicans in particular, but really a majority of all Texans support this whether you are in urban, suburban or rural areas, if you are Black, white or Hispanic or Asian. Or if you are a Republican, Democrat or Independent.  Majorities of all those categories strongly support it," said Gov. Abbott.

Many Democrats and some Republicans who live in rural areas oppose the plan.

The rural lawmakers oppose legislation like education savings accounts because they have fewer options when in comes to private schools.

"More than 80 percent of Republicans support this, including in the rural areas so if a Republican representative votes against this, they are voting against their own constituents," said Gov. Abbott when asked about the opposition.

Will public schools lose funding?

One big concern is public schools would lose funding.

Abbott doubled down saying public schools would not lose funding.

[STEVEN DIAL: "So you are very confident this will not reduce funding for public schools?"]

"Absolutely, yes," said Gov. Abbott. "The way funding works for public schools, it provides funding for the students who go to those schools. So those schools will continue to attract new students every single year and their funding will remain in place."  

"This does not harm public schools in rural areas or elsewhere, so there is no reason to have this fear raised about it because we have seen it work very effectively," Abbott continued.

Texas: The Issue Is airs at Sunday nights on FOX.