by Brian Washington
You would think a candidate who is expecting to run for governor would want voters to know his views on an important issue like public education, right? Well, not when that gubernatorial hopeful is the current attorney general in Texas, Greg Abbott.
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Abbott, who was conducting a series of education roundtables last week, was asked by reporters about his position on vouchers and tuition tax credits, which rob public school students of valuable state funding by allowing some parents to send their kids to private schools using public tax dollars. Abbott didn’t give a straight answer but stopped short of ruling out the use of public funds to pay for a private school education.
“Competition is an essential element to achieve my goal to have Texas schools ranked the best in the country,” said Abbott to a local reporter. However, while Abbott admits his “focus is not on vouchers at all,” as mentioned earlier, he didn’t rule them out either.
As attorney general, Abbott is currently defending the state legislature’s move to cut a whopping $5.4 billion from public school funding in 2011. More than two-thirds of the school districts in Texas have filed suit against the state following the cuts.
When asked about the legislature’s funding cuts, once again Abbott didn’t have anything definitive to say, claiming the lawsuit prevents him from discussing the topic, but, keep in mind, he didn’t criticize state lawmakers for taking such action. Meanwhile, he has already said publically that he will pursue a state budget policy that is similar to one he’s defending in court, one educators say reflects a funding system for public school’s that “unconstitutional and inadequate.”
A Texas educator from the Rio Grande Valley, Leticia Lopez, who wrote a commentary in one of the local papers referring to Abbott’s education tour, said he “offered no plan to make sure our classrooms have the resources they need” and gave out “the same empty promises” educators have heard before. Lopez also took Abbott to task for defending the legislature’s 2011 cuts in court.
In Hidalgo County, 575 school employees lost their jobs, including 235 teachers. Fewer teachers mean crowded classrooms and Weslaco ISD (Independent School District) has one of the highest average of pupils per class in the state. As attorney general, Abbott went to court to defend the school funding system. By doing so, he was fighting every school district in the Valley that sued the state to demand its fair share for our students.
According to Lopez, voters have a better choice for governor in state Sen. Wendy Davis.
“When the 2011 budget axe fell on our schools, state Sen. Wendy Davis stood alone to filibuster against education cuts,” wrote Lopez. “But Davis’ commitment to education is about more than speeches. She worked with Valley senators to restore many of the 2011 cuts—but we still lack resources needed for our students.”
In 2011, Davis tried to block the education cuts in the Senate, but to no avail. Meanwhile, she has made education policy a centerpiece of her campaign. She also called out Abbott last week on his perceived support for vouchers and his role in defending state budget cuts in court. Had she been governor at the time, Davis said she would have vetoed the cuts.
“Greg Abbott refuses to condemn the $5 billion in cuts to neighborhood schools in Texas because he supports them,” said a Davis spokeswoman in a statement issued last week. “Greg Abbots wants to be governor, but refuses to give a direct answer on whether he supports vouchers.”
Photos courtesy of the Texas Tribune and Alan Kotok