Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says he is prepared to forfeit billions of dollars in federal education funding following an Obama administration directive over bathroom access for transgender students.
The directive, issued amid a court fight between the federal government and North Carolina, requires that public schools allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that align with their gender identities.
Patrick said during a news conference Friday he is prepared to forfeit the $10 billion received from the federal government every two years —money he said was earmarked by the state for free meal programs.
"In Texas, [Obama] can keep his 30 pieces of silver. We will not yield to blackmail from the President of the United States," Patrick said.
"So Barack Obama, if schools don't knuckle down to force girls showering with boys and force 8-year-old girls to have to endure boys coming into their bathroom — he's taking money from the poorest of the poor. The president of the United States will be ending the free breakfast and free lunch program — that's what he's saying," Patrick added. "We will make sure in Texas the poorest kids don't go hungry, by the way, even if the president is happy to take food off the table of the poorest of the poor. We will find a way in Texas."
Patrick didn't say how that funding might be replaced by the state legislature.
He urged Texas superintendents to defy the directive, which Obama was expected to address in letters to schools Friday. The guidance does not impose legal requirements but clarifies expectations for districts that receive federal funds. Schools that do not comply could be found in violation of Title IX.
Patrick's remarks Friday came moments after more than half the state's 1,200 school districts lost a major lawsuit claiming Texas unconstitutionally underfunds public schools.
The issue of transgender bathrooms was thrust into the national spotlight amid a polarizing battle between the federal government and North Carolina over the state's limiting bathroom law.
Kent Scribner, the superintendent of the Fort Worth Independent School District, recently made the controversial decision to allow transgender students to use restrooms that align with their gender identities.
Patrick has been vocal in expressing his discontent over that decision and has called for Scribner's resignation on more than one occasion.
"President Obama, in the dark of the night — without consulting Congress, without consulting educators, without consulting parents — decides to issue an executive order, like this superintendent, forcing transgender policies on schools and on parents who clearly don't want it," Patrick told NBC 5 Thursday night.
"This is not about equal rights," he added. "This is President Obama sticking his finger in the eye of every parent in America who says I’m not going to tolerate this. We're going to see an explosion of home schoolers we're going to see an explosion of private schools and we're going to pass the school choice bill."
Patrick said the announcement would cause a shift in focus in terms of the presidential election.
"Parents will not tolerate this. This will end up in the Supreme Court which underscores why this presidential election is so important. The president has just made this the number one issue. This is going to infuriate parents all across the country and school teachers," said Patrick.
Dallas Independent School Distict School Board Vice President Miguel Solis, however, praised the directive.
"News of the White House reaffirming the notion that all children deserve schools void of discrimination is a validation of school boards that have passed nondiscrimination polices and superintendents that created guidelines to match them. Make no mistake, the bold stance the Fort Worth ISD Board Administration recently took has caught the eye of the nation and we as a society are better because of this," he said in a tweet.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.