Top Texas education official admits on audio that governor's voucher plan would cut public school funds

Deputy Texas Education Agency Commissioner Steve Lecholop — a former San Antonio ISD school board member — said the program would mean 'less money' for school districts.

click to enlarge Gov. Greg Abbott has said a school voucher program is one of his priorities during this session of the Texas Legislature. - Instagram / GovAbbott
Instagram / GovAbbott
Gov. Greg Abbott has said a school voucher program is one of his priorities during this session of the Texas Legislature.
A top Texas Education Agency official with Alamo City ties was captured on a recording admitting that if a school voucher program championed by Gov. Greg Abbott passes, it would cut funding to public school districts.

In the recording, TEA Deputy Commissioner Steve Lecholop — a former San Antonio ISD school board member — speaks on the phone with a woman who moved her special-needs child out of a North Texas public school and into parochial campus. During the call, he tries to convince her that her story would make a good anecdote for Gov. Greg Abbott as he stumps for a voucher program.

Abbott is among the Texas Republicans pushing for legislation this session that would let parents shift money that would have paid for their kids' public school education into tuition at private or parochial schools — a plan opponents argue would decimate Texas' already low public school funding. 

During the recording, Lecholop acknowledges that the scheme pushed by Abbott and other voucher proponents would result in funding cuts for public schools around the state. Texas currently ranks 42nd in the nation in spending on public education per pupil.

"This is happening in many states across, the country, and research is showing that, yes, traditional school districts are getting less money," Lecholop says before a dropout in the audio of the call.

“School districts, what they have to do if they lose a student, [is] be smart about how they allocate their resources, and maybe that’s one less fourth grade teacher,” he continues after the recording becomes clear again.

Further, Lecholop tells the woman that giving her story to Abbott's speechwriter would allow her to "stick it to" the district she pulled her child out of. 

Conservative commentator and public school parent Lynn Davenport secretly recorded the clip and posted it to YouTube over the weekend. The Texas Tribune was the first media outlet to report on the clip.

"We've got an audio that I think is a perfect example of what is wrong in Texas education today," Davenport says as she introduces the recording on YouTube. In her explanation of the content, she accuses Lecholop of "playing politics behind the scenes."

Although the TEA's top position is appointed by Texas' governor, the department has generally avoided wading into political debates. Further, the clip appears to be the first time a high-ranking TEA official has spoken out in favor of Texas implementing a voucher program, according to the Tribune.

Although Abbott has largely called his education savings account plan a "school choice" program, experts said it essentially amounts to a voucher proposal.

Shannon Holmes, executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, which opposes school vouchers, told the Tribune the recording suggests the TEA is willing to "collude" with Abbott on his political agenda.

“The very agency charged with state-level provision of the constitutional and statutory duty to provide access to a free public education to all Texas children shouldn’t actively collude with the governor in rank partisan politics aimed at tearing down the very education system it is the agency’s sole function to support,” Holmes said in a statement provided to the news site.

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Sanford Nowlin

Sanford Nowlin is editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Current.

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