Rebuttal to Governor Abbott’s False Narrative in the “2024 Report to the People of Texas” 

Gov. Greg Abbott’s “2024 Report to the People of Texas” paints a picture of a state thriving economically, leading in job creation, and investing in its future. However, a critical analysis, especially from the perspective of public education and the decisions made by the 88th Texas Legislature, reveals significant gaps between the report’s optimistic portrayal and the reality faced by Texas educators and school employees, students, and families. 

Investing in Public Education 

As Abbott notes in his report, we headed into the 88th Legislative Session with the largest budget surplus in Texas history – a record $33 billion. However, he tells a misleading tale about public education. 

“We ended the year investing more in our students, in our teachers, and in our public schools while empowering parents to ensure our education system works for every child,” wrote Abbott. 

The Texas Legislature may have provided additional funding to cover enrollment growth, deliver massive property tax cuts, and fund the “Amplify bill” (HB 1605), but the basic allotment was not increased despite historic inflation since 2019, and crucial line-items like special education and school safety remain woefully underfunded. The major legislation seeking to increase school funding and provide raises for teachers and school employees was hijacked by Abbott’s allies in the Texas Legislature and held hostage for universal voucher legislation at his behest. 

The increased funding referenced by Abbott largely represents the state paying its existing bills while the level of per-student education funding in Texas has remained stagnant. A January 2024 report titled “The Adequacy and Fairness of State School Finance Systems” found that 60% of the nation’s students in chronically underfunded school districts are in just 10 states, Texas being one of them. These states, however, serve only about 30% of the nation’s students. Additionally, when accounting for the actual per-pupil spending in each state compared to the amount needed to achieve the modest goal of U.S. average test scores, Texas comes in 44th place. Just over 91% of Texas public school students are attending inadequately funded schools. 

To claim the state invested more in our students, teachers, and public schools is extremely misleading, a lie designed to manipulate voters who support public education. 

Improving School Safety 

Abbott takes credit for investing in the future by, “Increasing funding for school safety initiatives so every campus can make necessary safety improvements, including technology upgrades, hardening equipment, and expanded mental health resources.” What he does not mention is that this investment in the future amounts to just pennies per student. 

The Texas Legislature imposed significant new school safety mandates on public schools in 2023, including requiring the placement of an armed officer on every school campus and bringing campuses up to new safety standards, but neglected to provide them with the funding necessary to implement the requirements.  

Despite testimony from school districts regarding the actual costs they incur for school safety on campus, the 88th Texas Legislature increased the “school safety allotment” by a measly $0.28 cents per student (from $9.72 to $10) and $15,000 per campus. For comparison’s sake, Jarrell ISD Police Chief Sharif Mezayek said that “It costs somewhere around $100,000 per officer just to get them equipped, get them trained, and put them on campus.” Mezayek also noted difficulty finding people to fill the positions. 

Due to the lack of funding and expensive new mandates, many school districts have had to dip into their reserves and cut spending elsewhere. 

A “Tale of Two Economies” 

Abbott loves to cite Texas’s GDP as a metric that represents Texas’s economic success and the wellbeing of Texans. In a state that has a $2.4 trillion economy (the eighth largest in the world according to Abbott), one might expect that the state government would make meaningful investments in expanding access to economic opportunity and improving residents’ quality of life. 

A new report by Every Texan calls Abbott’s claims regarding our economy and its benefits to Texans into question. “While our state’s economy thrives across various production metrics, the benefits are not equitably distributed among us,” reads the report titled, “Texas is the Tale of Two Economies.”  

The report highlights a critical dichotomy within the state’s economic framework, juxtaposing the thriving economy against the uneven distribution of its benefits among Texas residents. While Texas stands as a beacon of economic growth and prosperity on various fronts, this wealth is not equitably shared among working Texans and marginalized communities. 

Key statistics and findings from the report underscore profound disparities despite the state’s economic success: 

  • Texas holds the title of the second-largest state economy in the U.S., contributing nearly 10% to the national economy. Since the 1990s, the state’s economy has more than doubled, positioning it fourth in national growth rankings. This economic vitality is powered by a diverse and growing population and a high rate of job creation. 
  • Despite these accomplishments, a significant portion of Texans grapple with economic hardship. The state harbors one of the highest poverty rates in the nation (10th highest in 2021), with two in five Texans struggling to meet basic needs. This issue is especially pronounced in Black, Latino, and rural communities. 
  • Financial hardship is widespread, with nearly 43% of Texan households (about 4.6 million of 10.7 million) struggling to afford essential expenses. Financial hardship disproportionately affects Black and Latino households, single-parent families, and those living in rural areas. 
  • The state’s tax policies disproportionately benefit the wealthy and corporations at the expense of working families. Sixty-six billionaires in Texas possess more wealth than 70% of the state’s population combined, pointing to significant wealth and tax inequality exacerbated by state policies that favor the wealthy. 
  • Texas’ spending on its residents is significantly lower than the national average, ranking 45th in general state expenditures per capita and 42nd in spending per worker. This underfunding is attributed to policy decisions aimed at benefiting the wealthy, consequently leaving insufficient resources for public goods and services. For example, Texas renewed a corporate tax giveaway in 2023 that could result in at least $336 million in lost public school revenue.  

Culture War Hurting Economic Competitiveness 

In fact, some of the “victories” touted by Governor Abbott have in fact hurt our state’s economic competitiveness. 

“The students learning in our classrooms today are the leaders of tomorrow,” Abbott wrote in his report. He claims that we continue to invest in the future by, “Protecting students from inappropriate or explicit material in Texas public school libraries and school lessons.” He is referring to the passage of HB 900, the book censorship bill which requires book sellers to label books that contain “sexually explicit material” (enforcement of this bill was gutted by the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals). 

In his report, Abbott also celebrates the passage of the following legislation: 

  • banning Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at public colleges and universities (“Passing legislation to ensure universities focus on academic growth and achievement while ensuring an environment of intellectual rigor and diversity is maintained”); 
  • prohibiting transgender Texans from competing on college sports teams with the gender with which they identify (“Creating statutory protections for women athletes by prohibiting athletes from competing on a team or as an individual opposite to their biological sex”); and 
  • barring access to gender-affirming care for transgender children (“Protecting minor children from undergoing irreversible ‘gender transition’ medical procedures and hormonal treatments that can lead to permanent physiological changes and unintended side effects”). 

When CNBC released its annual list of the best states for business in 2023, however, Texas did not place among the top five states for the first time since the list was first introduced in 2007. Texas came in sixth place in 2013, while it took first place in 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2018. 

What is the reason for this change? CNBC’s analysis blamed the culture war being waged in the state and our diminishing quality of life – Texas’ rankings declined in key categories including “Infrastructure,” “Education,” and “Life, Health & Inclusion.” Lack of access to healthcare, including abortion, and legislative attacks on LGBTQ+ Texans resulted in our state being ranked dead last on the “Life, Health & Inclusion” metric, CNBC wrote.  

Gov. Greg Abbott Does Not Serve All Texans 

While Abbott said, “Together, we are building an even brighter Texas of tomorrow,” it is clear that he does not serve all Texans. Our governor leads according to an extreme ideology characterized by regressive, discriminatory stances on social issues and a strong bias favoring the wealthy on economic issues. He is further influenced by millions of dollars in campaign contributions he has received from out-of-state and homegrown Christian Nationalist billionaires. 

We have a lot of work before us, and it starts with our collective action. Let’s continue our fight for a “brighter Texas of tomorrow” by voting in the May runoff elections, participating in the November general election, and organizing in preparation for the 89th legislative session in January 2025.