This is a shocking story about the precarious position of rural schools in the age of vouchers. Legislators who represent rural districts in Texas know that their constituents don’t want vouchers. Their public school is the heart of their town. It’s where everyone comes together.

But in this story, a couple of billionaires who want all children in church schools, decided to take out one of these rural Republicans who stood by his local public schools. The legislator saw the amount of money arrayed against him, and he retired. He was replaced by a man who supports vouchers, even though the people in his district don’t.

Mike Hixenbaugh explains why rural districts oppose vouchers:

ROBERT LEE, Texas — After a bus driver called in sick one recent afternoon, Robert Lee Independent School District Superintendent Aaron Hood filled in for her. Slipping behind the wheel in a button-up shirt and tie, he rumbled down country roads, past ranches and wind farms to shuttle a few dozen students home in this tiny West Texas town.

Out here, where cattle outnumber children 20 to 1, no one is hollering about critical race theory in textbooks or pornography in the library. But those battles raging 250 miles away in the state capital and in far-away suburbs have galvanized a political movement that Hood fears could deal a devastating blow to rural school districts like his.

Backed by a surge of campaign spending from far-right Christian megadonors, Republicans in Texas and nationwide are pushing legislation that would siphon money from public education under the banner of “parents’ rights.” These plans, commonly known as vouchers, would give parents the money the state would have spent educating their children in public schools — between $8,000 and $10,000 per child per year in Texas — and allow them to put it toward homeschooling expenses, private school tuition or college savings accounts.

Officials in communities like Robert Lee, which has a population of about 1,000, warn these policies will chip away at already razor-thin public school budgets. With only 250 students — about 18 children per grade — even a slight drop in enrollment and funding can force rural schools like Robert Lee to make hard decisions, Hood said.

“We don’t have the same economy of scale as larger districts,” he said, which is one reason he obtained a commercial driver’s license to serve as a substitute bus driver. “If we lose five or 10 students, that’s a teacher salary. But we can’t afford to have one less teacher, so now we’re cutting academic programs, we’re cutting sports, we’re cutting the things that this community relies on.”

As president of the Texas Association of Rural Schools, a collection of 362 public school districts that are united in their opposition to vouchers, Hood and his fellow small-town superintendents have been trying to sound an alarm in Austin. They see the state GOP’s push for what advocates call “school choice” or “education freedom” as a betrayal of the party’s rural base in favor of wealthy campaign donors.