Wendy Davis unveils education proposals

01/09/2014 1:24 PM

01/10/2014 1:12 PM

Refocusing the governor’s race on education, state Sen. Wendy Davis on Thursday rolled out a slate of “common sense reforms” geared to put more teachers in classrooms throughout the state.

Davis, D-Fort Worth, spoke of six education proposals — including early college acceptance for top-performing high school juniors who commit to a teaching career — during an education roundtable at the University of Texas in Arlington.

“I do believe education must be the No. 1 priority we address as a state,” Davis said during her first talk detailing some of her education initiatives. “Texas leadership hasn’t really provided the focus and the priority on education that it demands and that it deserves.”

Davis said she didn’t know how much her proposals might cost, but she believes state lawmakers can find a way to fund them by using existing state resources — not raising taxes.

She and Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the perceived frontrunners for their party’s nominations, are expected to face each other in the Nov. 4 general election battle that will determine Texas’ next governor.

Both have long said education is a top priority.

Davis has taken Abbott to task for his legal defense of the billions of dollars in public school cuts that state lawmakers made in 2011.

Abbott has said he was just doing his job in legally defending the state from lawsuits by school districts. And he has touted how the 2013 Legislature returned billions of dollars to the educational system.

Abbott has made some campaign stops at charter schools, talking about boosting the role of charter schools in creating public school competition and promoting classroom technology, but has yet to lay out his education plan.

“Sen. Wendy Davis’ proposals are more fuzzy math — a plan that will increase spending and impose more mandates on Texas universities without explaining how to pay for it,” said Matt Hirsch, Abbott’s communications director. “Greg Abbott believes in genuine local control of education: empowering parents, teachers and principals to serve our students well.”

Davis said that her “Great Schools: Great Texas” plan will continue to evolve and that this is the first of several education proposals she will be talking about in the coming weeks.

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, businessman Dan Dipert, Tarrant County College Chancellor Erma Johnson-Hadley and Fort Worth school Trustee Jacinto Ramos Jr. were among those participating in Thursday’s roundtable discussion.

“We talk about economic development,” said Dipert, CEO of Dan Dipert Coaches. “There’s no greater economic development than schools.”

Great Schools: Great Texas

Davis, who has long talked about how her life was bettered by education that took her from Tarrant County College to Harvard Law School, said a key piece of her plan is attracting more people to teaching.

To help with that, the top 20 percent of high school juniors who commit to a teaching career would be guaranteed early acceptance to colleges that include the University of Texas, Texas A&M University, UTA and the University of North Texas. This proposal, Davis said, is similar to a program already in effect in Arlington schools that gains them admission to UTA.

And those students would be guaranteed a job teaching in a Texas school after graduation.

She also proposes ensuring adequate resources for the Teach for Texas Loan Repayment Program, the state’s main financial incentive program for teacher training, and restoring funding to the Education Aide Exemption, which provides financial incentives for teachers’ aides to become certified as full-time teachers.

Her plan calls for creating an educational pathway geared to teaching readiness and encouraging school districts to create programs to inspire students to go into teaching.

Davis said she wants to bring teacher pay in line with salaries in the rest of the country and boost the number of school counselors, who are required to be certified as teachers. She said Texas teachers earn between $7,000 and $8,000 below the national average.

Davis’ fight for education ramped up in 2011 on the last day of the legislative session, when she began a filibuster — which some described as being more like a 79-minute speech — trying to block passage of a key GOP school finance bill that she said slashed too much money from education and didn’t keep up with enrollment growth. Gov. Rick Perry called a special session, and a bill similar to the one that Davis killed soon passed.

She said college is an opportunity that should be available to everyone.

“I ... am a living example of education providing an opportunity for a person who was able to achieve something in her life that wouldn't have been possible absent that,” she said.

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