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GOP operative John Colyandro to lead "school choice" lobbying group

Longtime GOP political operative John Colyandro has been tapped to head a new organization that will aggressively push Texas lawmakers to approve education savings accounts.

Executive director of the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute and the Texas Conservative Coalition, John Colyandro gives testimony during a September 13, 2016 Select Committee on State & Federal Power & Responsibility

*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout. 

Longtime GOP political operative John Colyandro has been tapped to head a new organization that will aggressively push Texas lawmakers to approve education savings accounts, the latest controversial proposal in private "school choice" and a priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

The advocacy group Texans for Education Opportunity announced Colyandro's hiring in a press release Thursday morning as a key move in their push for legislation that will allow parents to send their children to private schools using tax money. 

Now the executive director of the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute, Colyandro "easily rose to the top" of a large talent pool of prospective leaders, said Stacy Hock, TEO's board chair. "As we are moving into session, we found that John has been a trusted voice and a champion of smart policy in and around the capitol for decades now. As he started to engage from a board perspective, it became clear that his engagement became more and more active," she said.

Colyandro has had an up-and-down career in Texas politics. In 2004, he was indicted by a Travis County grand jury on charges of money laundering after serving as the director of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's political action committee. DeLay, Colyandro and aide Jim Ellis were accused of illegally funneling corporate contributions to GOP candidates in key 2002 Texas legislative races. DeLay was convicted in 2011, and the conviction was overturned in 2013 by the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals. Colyandro pleaded guilty to lesser misdemeanor charges, was hit with a fine and his record was expunged after a year.

Launched in May, Texans for Education Opportunity will aggressively advocate for lawmakers to enact educational savings accounts, or ESAs, during the upcoming legislative session. As envisioned, ESAs would give parents debit cards loaded with taxpayer money to pay for a wide range of education expenses, including private and parochial school tuition and tutoring services.

Patrick has named education savings accounts a top priority for the Senate. Gov. Greg Abbott has not yet publicly commented on the idea.

A former Abbott adviser, Colyandro said he hopes to convince the Legislature of the success of ESAs in other states and raise the visibility of the debate statewide.

Read more Tribune coverage of education savings accounts here:

  • An ambitious new player has emerged in the controversial effort to use taxpayer dollars to help Texas parents send their kids to private or religious schools.
  • At a marathon hearing of the Senate Education Committee Wednesday, GOP senators debated how, not whether, to give Texas families taxpayer money to pay for private, religious or home schools.

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Politics Public education Dan Patrick Greg Abbott