Texas AFT Comments on Governor’s “State of the State” Speech and Budget

Gov. Greg Abbott gave a “state of the state” speech and put out a budget proposal today that left much to be desired. Responding to the governor’s education budget and policy ideas, Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro offered him some advice: “There are no shortcuts to great schools—investing in what works will help Texas become the best.”

In a statement to the press, President Malfaro expanded on that theme:

Gov. Greg Abbott said today he wanted Texas to have the best education system in America, but his specific education and budget priorities would guarantee continued underfunding of our public schools while recycling some failed proposals from past legislative sessions that would not improve our schools.

The bright spot for public education was his emphasis on some increased funding for pre-K and K-3. Abbott’s general plan for investing in pre-K sounds worthy, but his dollar amount falls way short of what’s needed for pre-K expansion in Texas. Recall that the Legislature completely axed $200 million in pre-K grants in 2011, and then it only restored $30 million in 2013. So the governor’s plan to put $118 million into pre-K programs doesn’t even get us back to the level of investment in 2011 and falls far short of the level needed to make full-day pre-K accessible to all students.

On other key education issues, the governor’s priorities would lead away from excellence. Giving campuses A-F ratings will not give students at struggling schools the help they need; it will only add community-wide stigma to underlying economic disadvantage.

The rhetoric of parent empowerment would mask the reality of corporate “charterization” of neighborhood public schools. An “achievement school district” would be the vehicle for top-down takeover of neighborhood schools dictated from Austin. Emphasizing online instruction for low-performing students would do them a disservice, judging by research and experience nationwide.

And encouraging school districts to opt out of compliance with the education code’s safeguards of educational quality, such as class-size limits in grades K-4, would hurt Texas students.

All these proposals have failed deservedly in prior legislative sessions. We urge lawmakers instead to try a proven, cost-effective approach to school improvement—the community-school model. This “all hands on deck” approach pulls together parents, faculty and staff, and community partners in designing and implementing their own, home-grown plan for improving their neighborhood school, turning it into a community hub for coordinated educational, health, and social services to students and their families.

The governor made no mention of the billions of dollars that would be required to meet state standards of equity and adequacy. That money is available now in the state revenue stream, if the governor and legislators have the will to use it. Instead, Gov. Abbott’s priority is cutting the business franchise tax by $2 billion and cutting property taxes by $2.2 billion (much of the latter also for the benefit of business interests).