With Texas Democrats complaining about Republican budget cuts and conservatives calling for more choice and less government involvement in an issue that impacts every Texan, the state’s public schools are shaping up to become the top issue in the 2014 election campaigns.
Since something can be found for every political persuasion, candidates can be expected to offer a barrage of statistics about schools and student achievement. With Democrats complaining about cuts in per-pupil spending and low education salaries in Texas, money is likely to be the biggest talking point in the coming electoral season. Meanwhile, Republicans claim there is no correlation between government spending and student success.
In 2011, to cut $5.4 billion from the state’s public education budget — the first such reduction in spending since World War II — the Republican-controlled Legislature rewrote the formula for public school funding. The Legislature restored about $3 billion in 2013, but still the spending cannot match the budget from 2010.
As conservative groups point out, increased spending over time, though, does not result in commensurate increases in student performance. Public schools need to change the way they operate and use existing funds more efficiently before they get additional taxpayer dollars, as argued by conservative Texas organizations such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation. In 2011, the state budget was filibustered by Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis, who also forced a special session to protest the cuts in school spending, which eventually passed.
“I do believe that education must be the No. 1 priority that we address as a state,” Davis said at a round table at the University of Texas at Arlington on Thursday.
Democrats believe they can win over suburban mothers upset at the budget cuts made at their schools. However, by laying the blame on teachers’ unions and tenure systems they believe keep poor educators on the job, Republicans are not ready to cede the issue.
“It’s time for Texas to set our sights on being number one in education,” Republican gubernatorial candidate, Greg Abbott told a conservative political conference on Friday.
Advocating more charter schools and allowing parents more leeway to choose where to send their children is the gist of Abbott’s solution. Davis wants to encourage the brightest students to become teachers and forgive their student loans when they work at public schools.
According to Chris Tomlinson of the Houston Chronicle, one can expect the candidates to debate curriculum, graduation standards and testing, as parents are involved in continued fights against teaching evolution by Christian groups and business leaders increasingly require better-educated high school graduates.
The number of schools falling short of minimum standards doubled from 2012 because of newer, higher standards, claimed the Texas Education Agency, meaning that at least half the students at those schools have failed the accountability tests in two of the three previous years or the schools were rated academically unacceptable in 2011 or “Improvement Required” last year.
Additionally, in the nation in SAT scores last year, Texas ranked 47th — a statistic that all who argue Texas’ education system needs improvement can cite for support.