October 20, 2023 7:00am

Power Poll respondents weigh in on public money for private schools, Mayor Watson and Texas football and weather

Respondents oppose legislative private school funding proposal but predict it will be approved

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Austin, TX Correspondent
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A majority of Power Poll Austin respondents oppose the use of state tax dollars to subsidize private school education.

But a larger majority predicts the Texas Legislature, now meeting in special session to consider this and other topics, will approve a voucher-like program this year.

The respondents, a collection of local governmental, political, civic and business leaders, also weighed in on the performance of Austin Mayor Kirk Watson and two perennial favorite local topics - Texas Longhorn football and Texas weather.

Power Poll asked whether participants favor the voucher-like program that’s been approved by the Texas Senate and is awaiting possible action in the House, which didn’t OK the Senate-approved version during this year’s 140-day regular legislative session that ended in May.

A solid 58% of respondents said no to the legislation, which calls the program “educaton savings accounts” and would make $8,000-per-student available to help pay for private school tuition and expenses. Gov. Greg Abbott is pushing hard for approval.

But only 28% of Power Poll participants expressed support for the concept. Another 14% said they’d favor it only for low-income Texas families.

But those same respondents, by a 64%-36% margin, predicted the Legislature will approve the program this year.

It’s a topic that riles Texans on both sides of the issue.

“Defunding education and putting the money in the hands of religious ‘schools and worse, home schooling is a direct effort by the GOP to lower the education levels and therefore better control the electorate,” said Power Poll respondent Lionel Felix, chief executive officer of Felix Media Solutions.

But Eric Bandholz, Beardbrand’s founder and CEO, said “Public schools will have nothing to worry about if they offer superior education services.”

“The reality is they know their product is trash and most people, if given additional resources, will gladly pull children out of failing public schools,” Bandholz said. “That's why they're fighting so hard to prevent families for having options for their children.”

Scott Francis, BP3’s founder and CEO, says lots of folks seem to ignore two facts.

“First, that private schools are much more expensive than public schools - and much more expensive than the vouchers that would be offered,” Francis said. “Second, that many parts of Texas have no private schools to send their children and run the risk of having lower levels of funding if those funds are used to subsidize private schools in big cities.”

“Those of us who support private schools should do so with our private money as we always have,” he said. “We pay taxes for public schools for the public good, to make sure everyone can get a good education, because it is good for our city, county, state and country, full stop.”

This month’s Power Poll also asked participants to grade Austin Mayor Kirk Watson’s job performance as he heads toward the end of the first year of his term. Watson has been leading the effort to address a variety of problems that have troubled Austin for many years, including homelessness, public safety, utility dependability and land development rules.

A majority of Power Poll respondents are happy with the job Watson is doing. He earned an “excellent” rating from 25% of participants and a “good” rating from another 32%. Thirty-one percent rated Watson’s performance as “adequate.” And 11% said he’s doing an “abysmal” job.

Football-wise, Power Poll respondents lean toward a wait-and-see attitude on whether the Texas Longhorns, undefeated and moving up the polls prior to losing to reviled rival Oklahoma, will make the four-team College Football Playoffs at season’s end. Forty-one percent of respondents said it’s still too early to tell. Another 38% said the Horns won’t make it. And 21% said they will be among the college football final four. The poll was conducted prior to the Horns' 31-24 close-call win over Houston on Oct. 21, a game in which UT starting quarterback Quinn Ewers suffered a shoulder injury that makes his playing status unknown for upcoming games.

And as a blisteringly hot summer, even by Central Texas standards, faded into fall, a solid 66% of respondents said this year’s summer weather portends a permanent change that will persist in coming years. Only 34% said the summer of ’23 was a climatological anomaly.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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