As early voting begins today, the candidates for lieutenant governor are competing for one of the most powerful positions on the ballot. The winner of the race will control the Texas Senate and bills considered in that chamber. Here’s a look at how the contenders -- Republican Dan Patrick and Democrat Leticia Van de Putte -- differ on one of the state’s most important issues: education.
Both state senators running for lieutenant governor share an expertise in education. Patrick chairs the senate’s education committee. Van de Putte has served on the committee for more than a decade.
At times they’ve worked together, but they often disagree. Take school funding. Patrick supported cutting $5.4 billion from the education budget in 2011 when Texas faced an enormous deficit. He says the state needed to tighten its belt and schools didn’t crumble as result.
“This idea that I voted against education funding? She’s right,” Patrick said. “When the downturn was on, we had a choice. Conservative Republicans decided not to raise your taxes. And so we cut education and we cut the average school district between 4 percent and 6 percent. And the world didn’t end and our education system moved forward.”
Van de Putte fought against the education cuts and believes they gutted schools. Last year she supported restoring the money and says despite Patrick’s dismissals, classrooms did suffer.
“Dan sees our children as a cost to this state,” Van de Putte says. “I see it as a workforce and our opportunity. He twice voted to deny resources to our schools. The first one in 2011. He said it was no problem that 11,000 teachers lost their jobs or 8,000 class-size waivers were submitted.”
Moving forward, Van de Putte would spend more state dollars on education, tapping the rainy day fund she says is growing thanks to the healthy oil and gas industry. Patrick wants to reform altogether the way the tax system supports schools. He would replace property taxes – the primary source of local school funding- with money from an increased state sales tax.
Patrick also plans to reintroduce what critics call a school voucher plan. It would allow businesses paying a margins tax to the state to instead put that money into a fund that would pay for scholarships to private schools. The bill failed last session, but Patrick believes he can pass it next session if he’s elected lieutenant governor.
“If you can’t find a public school to go to,” Patrick says, “if you can’t find a charter school to go to, you could get a scholarship from private business. And take that money to a Catholic school, a Christian school, a private school, wherever you want to go.”
Van de Putte opposes the plan which shifts public tax dollars to private schools, saying it further robs public schools following the deep education budget cuts.
“His passion is privatization. Vouchers. The question should be, how do we value teachers? We get that right and we will have an education system that meets the needs of our students and the future,” Van de Putte says.
As the Republican nominee in a red state, Patrick is the front-runner in this race. Southern Methodist University Political Science Professor Matthew Wilson believes if Patrick wins he would take his tea party values to the lieutenant governor’s office.
“He’ll want to give these proposals a hearing before the senate. And so therefore, his election would create more of an opportunity for these cherished conservative priorities to actually see the floor,” Wilson says.
Van de Putte is appealing to female and Hispanic voters, and to those who want a better funded system of public education. Despite the odds, she believes she can upset her opponent on election day.