In High-Profile Texas Governor’s Race, Republican Targets Early Education

By Andrew Ujifusa — April 01, 2014 2 min read
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Just how much bipartisan support does early-education expansion have across the country? One key measure might be found in the Texas governor’s race, where GOP candidate and state Attorney General Greg Abbott has given a new early-education push both his blessing and a funding pledge.

Abbott is trying a one-two combination with his plan to boost early education.

First, he wants to provide as much as $118 million in state money for prekindergarten programs run by local school districts, while also restarting the Texas Reading Initiative, a program begun by former Texas Gov. George W. Bush that aims to have students reading on grade level at least by the 3rd grade.

But here’s the second, politically conservative part: In developing these “gold standard, high-quality” early education programs, Abbott wants to “encourage” parents to turn away from federally funded Head Start programs. That, as the Associated Press notes, is an attack on federal programs that in his view simply don’t work as well as leaving it up to the state and local officials. He wants to develop a “strategic plan” to push parents away from Head Start, although it’s not entirely clear from his proposal how that plan would work.

“I am laying out an a education plan for the next decade to elevate Texas to a No. 1 ranking in the country,” Abbott said. (His plan makes it clear that scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress will determine whether Texas achieves that top ranking—click on the image below to enlarge.)

What’s the response of his opponent, Democratic candidate and state Sen. Wendy Davis? She says it’s laughable that Abbott is promising significant new state funds for education at the same time that he is defending the state in court over cuts to K-12 education funding the state made in 2011. Davis has her own multipart plan for public schools that includes a focus on retaining more teachers and paying them more.

“The hypocrisy is astonishing,” she said in a statement.

Despite the attention the Texas gubernatorial campaign is getting from national media, perhaps in large part because of Davis’ candidacy, it’s unclear how competitive the race actually is. The always-sober Cook Political Report has Texas as a “solidly Republican” race well outside the report’s statistical range that swing states fall into. And Abbott holds a clear, if not absolutely dominating, lead according to the polls, beating Davis by an average of nearly 13 percentage points.

But Abbott is obviously trying to engage Davis head-on over public education and isn’t “conceding” the issue, so to speak. Remember, Abbott stated in a January radio interview that teachers “know that they are underpaid.” It remains to be seen if Abbott can keep Davis from using education as an issue to leverage support and visibility for her campaign.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.