Texas: The Issue Is — State Rep. Martinez Fischer talks school choice vouchers

This week's Texas: The Issue Is continues looking at the school voucher debate getting underway at the Texas State Capitol.

The idea has different names, including school choice and parental rights, and was recently relabeled as "education savings accounts" by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott during his State of the State address.

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio), the chairman of the Texas House Democrat Caucus, considers it a bad idea regardless of the name and not the way to fix what he believes is a flawed education funding formula. Fischer sits down with FOX 7 Austin's Rudy Koski to discuss.

READ MORE: Gov. Abbott responds to criticism of school voucher program

TREY MARTINEZ FISCHER: The governor has these ideas that he wants to privatize schools and have these vouchers, that's only going to take money out of our schools. By my count, we are already short. We are in the negative when it comes to public education funding. So I'll give you a good example. Two years ago, we fully negotiated $47 billion to be spent in public schools. And this time around for this budget, that number is now 38 billion. We're just coming out of a pandemic. We're in the middle of crazy inflation. Eggs cost $6 a dozen, and we're taking $9 billion out of public education and saying that we're fully funding it. That doesn't pencil with me. That doesn't pencil with the people that I represent. And so before we start talking about any shenanigan or any scheme to take money out of our public schools, I want to make sure that we actually do right by our teachers and our kids and our families and make the investments to fully fund public education.

RUDY KOSKI: Why shouldn't a parent be able to use their tax dollars and put it into the school that they want their kids to be in? 

TREY MARTINEZ FISCHER: Well, I don't hear that conversation of saying, well, I don't have a car. Give me my money back for whatever you spend on roads or, hey, you know, incidentally, I don't go to parks. I don't like parks. Just give me my money back. We don't do à la carte budgeting in the state of Texas. We're all in for one Texas, one community, one state. We're big. 254 counties, 31 million people. We cannot write a budget that's going to take the wants and the needs and the select items that people think is worth investing in. We're investing in our entire state.

READ MORE: Debate over school vouchers continues in Texas

RUDY KOSKI: Several years ago, the state was sued over its education funding formula, and it still struggles into getting money to schools. So talking vouchers now, not the right time.

TREY MARTINEZ FISCHER: You and I have been here a long time. We were here when $5.4 billion left the school system. And some say that that money has never fully come back. Since the pandemic, we have not put real resources in education since the pandemic. And so, look, let's face it, I'm not going to have a debate about taking more money out of schools when we have an introduced budget that's already taking $9 billion out.

RUDY KOSKI: When you say fully funded, what does that mean?

TREY MARTINEZ FISCHER: Sure. I think there's…I think we look across the country, and we see what the average cost is to educate people across this country. I think Texas is towards the bottom. Right. So I think we look at need to look at our basic allotment and adjust those dollars for inflation. But we're still using the same metrics to invest in our schools. We wouldn't do that in our business. We certainly wouldn't do that in investing in our home. Our most prized asset is being willing to work, be pragmatic, roll up our sleeves and be realistic. But this session, like none other, we have a seat at the table, and we have a few additional chairs.

READ MORE: Texas AFT unveils legislative priorities to retain teachers, help students

RUDY KOSKI: In the Democratic response to the state of the state, it seemed like you opened the door to some negotiations regarding vouchers. Is there room for some give and take?

TREY MARTINEZ FISCHER: I will say this. I would say that there is nothing to talk about until we find our schools, until we have a commitment from our public schools. I've said this also. We have $59 billion sitting up here in our checking and savings account. And for the life of me, if these wonderful ideas are so great, why is the governor choosing to take that money out of an existing commitment when we have new revenue sitting on the sidelines? So to me, it tells me it's more about vouchers and savings accounts, it's more about potentially hurting schools. And I think when it comes to that, we have to have our elbows up all the time and we need to know those details. And our job is pretty fundamental. And you walk around this building, school children, they don't have a lobbyist up here. They don't have special interests, you know, knocking on our doors. We're their voice. And we're here to do our jobs.