Texas Gov-Elect Abbott Makes Education First Priority

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Texas Governor-elect Greg Abbott said during a Capitol news conference this week that education would be his top policy priority. His goals are to improve students’ educational foundations in prekindergarten through fourth grade and to make sure that all students finish third grade reading on at least a third-grade level with math understanding at or above grade level, says Reeve Hamilton of The Texas Tribune.

Abbott added that he wants to ensure that students graduate from high school and “move on to the next phase of their lives,” whether that includes college or employment. His administration plans to make getting a higher education more affordable as well as building the status of  the state’s public universities.

“One of the areas that disturbs me is the fact that five of the top 10 public universities in the country are from California, with none being from Texas,” Abbott said.

In his words to reporters, Abbott spoke about school funding and raising the quality of Texas schools, but not about school choice, which is important to conservatives, one of whom is Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick, writes Brian Rosenthal, reporting for the Houston Chronicle.

During Abbott’s campaign, he proposed a 25% increase in the amount of money the state places into a special fund that assists eight of the state’s 38 universities in attracting top-notch faculty and that improves instruction and research. Richard Garrett, writing for the Dallas News, reports that the governor-elect also wants a $40 million increase in state funding of the Texas Competitive Knowledge Fund in the next two years, which would assist 10 campuses, some of which are relatively new, such as UT-Dallas, UT-Arlington, and the University of North Texas. As it now stands, schools that receive first-time help are required to eliminate at least several million dollars of existing state funding.

During this two-year budget cycle, $160 million was received by the fund. Disbursement was $59 million to Texas A&M, $53 million to UT-Austin, $8.2 to UT-Dallas, $6.2 million to UT-Arlington. The rest went to Texas Tech University, the University of Houston, UT-El Paso, and UT-San Antonio.

But Abbott’s largest funding proposal is for the state to pay military veterans’ tuition. Known as the Hazlewood Act, it would amount to a $363 million increase to the two-year state budget. After education on Abbott’s priority list, he has championed economic development, border security and infrastructure improvements.

Greg Abbott was out jogging one day in 1984 in Houston when a falling oak tree hit him in the back, paralyzing him at 26. Zachary Roth, reporting for MSNBC, says his disability is something Abbott uses as a sign of toughness.

“When I had the tree crash down on my back, it changed my life forever,” he answered, with an immediacy that made clear the line was carefully prepared. “A lot of people ask me, do you have any regrets going out jogging? What would you have done differently? Could you have run faster or slower? Could you have done anything to avoid the accident? I learned at that crucial time in my life, you never look back.”