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School choice at center of District 18 race

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    State Rep. Ernest Bailes is presented with the Public Education Champion Award from Raise Your Hand Texas for his continued support of public schools. The four-term legislator drew the ire of Gov. Greg Abbott during the 88th legislative session over his stance on school choice. The Vindicator | Russell Payne
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    Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has endorsed the candidacy of Janis Holt in the race for state House District 18, touting her commitment to school choice. Contributed Photo
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    Stephen Missick

School choice is playing a big role in the race for state House District 18, with one GOP candidate picking up a key endorsement from Gov. Greg Abbott after the governor failed to get vouchers pushed through the Legislature last session.

Last week, Republican candidate Janis Holt touted endorsements both from Abbott and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz she hopes will propel her to the GOP nomination.

Abbott and Cruz praised her stance on vouchers, a measure that would allow parents to designate which schools get their tax support and the enrollment of their children.

Abbott during the 88th Legislature called lawmakers back four times in an effort to get his school-choice initiative passed, but ultimately the measure never received the support needed to become law.

Critics, especially in rural districts with no private or parochial education, worry the measure could divert property taxes away from public school systems and cripple them.

Abbott has since actively supported candidates who pledge their efforts to getting vouchers approved, and turned a blind eye to Republicans who are not behind the initiative.

“It is truly an honor to receive the support of Gov. Abbott and Sen. Cruz. Their confidence in my ability to tackle the crucial issues facing House District 18 is humbling. Together, we share a common vision for a sovereign Texas that ensures the safety and security of our communities,” Holt said.

Holt is challenging incumbent state Rep. Ernest Bailes in a political rematch, as well as Stephen Missick, in the race that includes Liberty, Hardin, San Jacinto and East Montgomery counties.

Bailes, who butted heads with the governor during the 88th legislative session and subsequent special sessions focused on school choice, has stood firm on his stance supporting public schools in Texas.

“We have a governor who is all in on that, and he is not a big fan of mine right now,” Bailes said at an event last summer.

The state representative has previously argued leaders supporting vouchers in Texas have not been upfront with what he believes are the realities of school choice.

“The people that were pushing for this never shot straight, and that starts at the very top,” Bailes said.

Raise Your Hand Texas, a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for public education, honored Bailes with the inaugural Public Education Champion Award in front of educators from around the district at a ceremony last year.

This week, Bailes received the Golden Apple Award from the Texas Association of Mid-sized Schools.

“This whole race has boiled down to those who believe in granting the largest allocation of governmental welfare which would ever be granted, under the guise of calling it ‘conservative,’’’ Bailes said in a recent Facebook post.

Bailes, who defeated Holt and two other candidates in 2022, argues his opponent this go- round has received more financial support because of the voucher issue.

“Same opponent as last time, just with the addition of several hundred thousands of dollars from a few folks who want to elect someone who will blindly do their bidding,” Bailes said.

Abbott, who continues to push school choice as one of his top priorities, has put his support squarely behind Holt and her stance on the issue.

“As a lifelong Republican, Janis Holt is the type of conservative leader Texans in House District 18 need representing them in Austin,” the governor said. “ Not only will Janis help me carry a school- choice bill across the finish line, she will also advocate for strong border security measures, policies that cut property taxes and laws that protect the unborn.”

Cruz’s endorsement of Holt marks her as one of several candidates the senator recently backed for their school-choice support.

“I am proud to endorse these strong candidates who have shown they will defend Texas’ conservative values and stand on the right side of history by supporting school choice, the civil rights issue of our time,” Cruz said.

Missick, the third candidate in the race, says he is a proponent of homeschooling and will work to pass school choice to improve the quality of education and create new opportunities for all Texas families.

Political watchers say the question of vouchers could have a sizable impact on local balloting, especially since the Cleveland Independent School District is ranked as one of the fastest-growing in the country.

Party primaries are March 5. Early voting is Feb. 20 to March 1, and the last day to register to cast a ballot is Feb. 5. The general election is Nov. 5.