Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis outlined a plan Thursday for attracting more top students to teaching and for improving the pay of those already in the classroom.
Davis, a Democratic state senator from Fort Worth, says her plan will help address an anticipated shortage of some 50,000 teachers in 2015.
The state’s public school population has grown by 20 percent in the past decade and continues to expand, with some 85,000 new students enrolling each year. But the number of new teachers being certified reportedly dropped by 24 percent in 2012.
Davis highlighted those numbers Thursday as she outlined her plan for training and retaining more teachers.
She wants Texas to guarantee early acceptance into a college for the top 20 percent of high school juniors who plan to be educators. And she wants to promise them teaching jobs once they’re certified.
Davis also proposes making college more affordable by forgiving one year of student loan debt for every two years they teach in a Texas school.
Her plan offers financial incentives for teachers and teacher aides to continue their education, and a teacher pay raise.
“With the strong Texas economy we certainly have the ability and working with the legislature we have the ability to bring the pay more in line with the national average," Davis said. "We are now $7,000 to $8,000 below that."
Davis unveiled this first plank in her education platform after meeting with a group of North Texas educators.
Renea Honea, president of Dallas' largest teacher group, says the plan begins to address the biggest obstacle to keeping good teachers.
“The biggest challenge is the economic challenges they encounter with the lower pay as a professional in the educational field," Honea said. "It is very difficult to make ends meet for a family. Many of our teachers have second and third jobs after their teaching responsibilities."
But Davis’ plan brought swift rebuke from a spokesperson for Greg Abbott, the Republican frontrunner for governor. The campaign’s communications director called the plan “fuzzy math” that would increase spending.
Abbott has met with educators to talk about competition in the classroom and online learning but has not yet released specifics of his education plan.
Davis didn’t provide a price tag for her proposal but claims it won’t break the bank.
“I certainly, as governor, do not intend to propose a tax increase," she said. "I do believe we can do this within existing resources particularly as the economy continues to show the success it’s shown."
Davis says education money may be available through the state’s growing Rainy Day savings account, which is funded through oil and gas taxes.
She says she’ll release additional planks of her education plan within weeks.