Democrats will hit high gear at their convention Friday night with speeches by Wendy Davis, their candidate for governor, and Leticia Van de Putte, their nominee for lieutenant governor.
On Thursday, both candidates talked about their vision for education at the Texas Classroom Teachers Association conference in Fort Worth. Davis’ Republican opponent, Greg Abbott, also spoke.
Before she gained national fame a year ago for filibustering an abortion bill, Davis filibustered the 2011 budget bill because it cut education funding.
She told a ballroom filled with more than 200 teachers the state has more money now and should spend some of it on improving schools and paying teachers.
“Today in Texas teachers are paid about $8,000 below the national average. And in an economy as strong as Texas we can do better than that. We can do at least average,” Davis said to applause.
Davis also called for offering pre-Kindergarten to all Texas 4-year-olds, and less testing in elementary schools.
She said Abbott’s support of school choice is really code for supporting vouchers.
“Vouchers mean bleeding precious resources out of our classrooms and we cannot afford to bleed anymore,” Davis said. “We cannot abandon (students) to a voucher system that allows only a few to go off into a private school arena while hundreds of thousands of children are left behind.”
Later in the day, Abbott said that Davis had it wrong. He said his school choice plan would not create vouchers to pay for private schooling. He wants choice within the public system.
“That means, in part, removing some of the mandates from Austin, Texas, and allowing more control at the ISD level," Abbott said. "But it really means in part allowing parents to have the choice of where their children go to school.'
On stage, Abbott also called for less standardized testing, stipends for teachers who complete special training, and eliminating barriers that make it difficult to remove unruly students from classrooms.
“We must uphold your rights as teachers to maintain a safe and disciplined environment for education,” he said, citing Washington restrictions on disciplining students.” Teachers applauded.
Abbott said almost nothing about whether he supports increased school funding, which is always one of the biggest issues facing lawmakers. Just this week, his staff at the attorney general’s office lost a battle to remove the judge who may declare the Texas school finance system underfunded and unconstitutional.
After his speech, Abbott held his first press conference since he headlined the state Republican convention three weeks ago. That’s where the GOP passed a controversial platform that takes a harder line on illegal immigration and calls for offering counseling to help gay people become straight.
Abbott wouldn’t say if there’s anything in the platform he rejects.
“I haven’t read the platform,” he said.
Democrats say they’ll present a contrast to the Republican philosophy at their state convention in Dallas.
In her address to teachers, Leticia Van de Putte, the Democrat running for lieutenant governor, said her Republican opponent, Dan Patrick, supports vouchers and she doesn’t. She cited Patrick’s unsuccessful legislation last session that would have given businesses a state tax break if they contributed to a fund that provided scholarships -- some say vouchers -- to private schools.
Patrick’s campaign said he was unable to attend the teachers’ conference. He responded to Van de Putte in a statement saying he’s worked closely with teachers on education reform.
“I continue to search for ways to give teachers more flexibility so they can focus on their students," Patrick said.