Cavazos Draws Fire After Speech in Texas

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U.S. Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos last week ran into bitter criticism from Democrats and fellow Hispanics in his home state of Texas after he gave a speech to the legislature promoting school choice and downplaying the role of money in reform.

Addressing a joint session of the Texas legislature, which is meeting to revamp the state's school-finance formula, Mr. Cavazos asked lawmakers to consider a statewide choice plan.

"Academic choice, coupled with school-based management, is the cornerstone of efforts to restructure school systems," he said.

Mr. Cavazos appeared to question the value of additional funding in improving education. "Money is clearly not the answer to the education deficit," he said.

Many lawmakers disagreed, and some expressed their disagreement in unusually personal terms.

"It shocked me to hear a Hispanic, a Texan, come back and say more funding is not the answer," said State Senator Carlos Truan, chairman of the Senate Hispanic Caucus, adding that he was "embarrassed" by the Secretary's remarks.

Hispanics Walk Out

Three Hispanic legislators walked out of the House chamber during Mr. Cavazos' speech, according to several of those present. And Mr. Truan confronted the Secretary on the speaker's podium immediately after his address, and again in a post-speech press conference.

"I told him he was espousing the Republican philosophy--promoting public education but not providing the money for it," said Mr. Truan.

Carl A. Parker, chairman of the Senate education committee, said Mr. Cavazos' stance contradicted the one he took when he would come before the legislature as president of Texas Tech University during the 1980's.

"When he was president of Texas Tech," said Mr. Parker, "he never came up here volunteering to take less money or to substitute efficiency for funding."

But Republicans generally welcomed Mr. Cavazos' remarks.

"The Governor thought it was an excellent speech," said Rossanna Salazar, a spokesman for Gov. William P. Clements Jr. "He agrees with Dr. Cavazos that the problems in our public-education system in Texas won't be resolved by merely spending more."

And Representative Kent Grusendorf, a Republican member of the House education committee, said he thought Mr. Cavazos "made some good points."

"He was just talking about the efficient operation of schools," Mr. Grusendorf added.

Statistical Questions

But another Republican, Senator Cyndi Krier, questioned some of the statistics Mr. Cavazos cited in his speech.

The Secretary said that aggregate national spending on education has increased by 27 percent, after inflation, since 1981. But "it didn't appear he was factoring in inflation in those figures," said Ms. Krier, who serves on the Senate education committee.

She also questioned the Secretary's assertion that "almost 60 percent of the dollars spent on education go to administration and not to the classroom."

"Where did he get that figure?" she asked, arguing that Texas spent more than 40 percent of its education dollars directly in the classroom.

But lawmakers reserved some of their harshest criticism for Mr. Cavazos's citation of a study claiming that blacks and Hispanics do worse the longer they stay in school.

Released by the National Center for Policy Analysis, a Dallas-based research group, the study found that 70 percent of black and Hispanic students passed certain achievement tests in the 1st grade, but more than 50 percent failed in the 9th.

"You were looking at two different groups of students," said Ms. Krier. The study used test figures for both groups from the same year, she said, "so I don't see how you can compare them."

"Cavazos is one of us," added Senator Hector Uribe, a member of the Senate's education committee and Hispanic Caucus. "He's a Texan, an educator, and the first Hispanic to hold Cabinet rank in the history of the United States. I'd hoped he would stand up for the poor school districts of the state. I'm surprised that he couldn't see through this study that seeks to undermine educational opportunity for minority Americans."

Cavazos' Response

In a Washington interview after the speech, Mr. Cavazos expressed resentment at the personal nature of such criticism.

"I wonder if they would have been as mad if the Secretary of Education that had given the speech were not Hispanic," he said. He will continue to "tell the truth" about the benefits of school choice and the overemphasis on money, he vowed.

Mr. Cavazos also rejected the notion that he was there to promulgate Republican philosophy.

"I wasn't there to defend Clements," he said referring to the Republican governor. "I was there to propose ideas for giving every child in Texas a good education."

Washington Editor Julie A. Miller contributed to this story.

Vol. 9, Issue 25, Page 16

Published in Print: March 14, 1990, as Cavazos Draws Fire After Speech in Texas
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