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Education Funding to Play Key Role in Texas Governor's Race

Marjorie Kamys Cotera & Bob Daemmrich via Texas Tribune
State Senator Wendy Davis, the presumed Democratic nominee for Texas Governor and Attorney General Greg Abbott, the presumed GOP nominee.

The first time State Senator Wendy Davis made waves as a Texas lawmaker was during the 2011 legislative session when she filibustered a budget that cut four billion dollars in funding for public schools.

“It’s the first time that we’ve ever done this in state history and the funding of public education and it’s a cut that I simply cannot stand for," Davis said during that filibuster.

But stand she did, pushing the 2011 legislature into a special session, where the budget plan were eventually approved anyway with the cuts included.

On Thursday, Davis released the first part of her education plan as a gubernatorial candidate.  It lays out a six point plan to attract and retain quality teachers. Meanwhile, Attorney General Greg Abbott--the GOP's presumed  nominee--has been doing a series of listening sessions statewide focused on education, but has not yet released a formal education plan.

Both candidates are focused on getting their messages out before the November general election and education is expected to be one hot topic, especially the way Texas funds public education.

Since Davis announced her decision to run as governor, she often uses her opposition to the 2011 education budget cuts to contrast herself with Abbott.

“This month I’ll be talking about my plan to prioritize public education while General Abbott is in a courtroom defending the cuts that were made to public education," Davis said to reporters yesterday, referring to the trial over the state’s system of funding public education that re-opens later this month.

The case questions whether that system is constitutional. Last year, a judge ruled it was unconstitutional, but after the legislature restored some of the education cuts in 2013, some wonder if the ruling should still stand.

Former state representative Sherri Greenberg now heads the LBJ Center for Politics and Governance. She says education funding is one issue that will most likely dominate the campaign conversation.

“[Davis] has been quite vocal in attacking Greg Abbott for defending the [2011] cuts," Greenberg says.

As Attorney General, it’s Abbott’s job to defend any legal challenge to state policy, which is why he says he hasn’t given an opinion on the how the state should fund education. Greenberg says the re-opening of the case will keep it in the campaign dialogue.

“No one is going to be able to stake out a position for sure until we actually hear what the court decides," she says.

During Thursday's event, Davis steered the education conversation toward teachers, where she laid out proposals like more financial help and early college acceptance for aspiring teachers in the state. But Abbott’s campaign press secretary Abe Huerta brought it back to funding again, calling it more "fuzzy math."

“[It's] a plan that will increase spending and impose more mandates on Texas universities without explaining how to pay for it," Huerta said in a statement from Abbott's campaign office.

When asked, Davis said she does not know exactly how much each proposal will cost.

Another education issue Greenberg says could come up during the campaign: vouchers—which gives public money to families at underperforming schools so they can enroll their kids in private schools. Abbott says he is not focused on vouchers, but will not say whether or not he supports them. It’s an issue that Greenberg says has Republicans split within their own party.

“Republicans who represent rural areas, for instance, who are saying ‘wait a minute. I don’t think vouchers are going to be good for my district even though I’m a Republican because I live in a rural area and we don’t have all these private schools," she says.

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