Davis' education proposals unrealistic for Texas schools

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State Sen. Wendy Davis speaks with with Evan Smith, The Texas Tribune CEO and editor-in-chief, at The Texas Tribune Festival on Saturday, Sept. 20.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, the Democratic candidate in the upcoming gubernatorial election, first received attention when she filibustered $5.4 billion in cuts to the Texas education system during the 2011 legislative session. Since announcing her bid for governor, Davis has structured her campaign around the improvement of the Texas education system, and Texas liberals have branded her Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, as an anti-education “insider.” But if Davis’ proposals seem too good to be true, it’s because they are.

While both candidates aim to expand existing opportunities for high school students to gain college credit and increase high school and college graduation rates, Davis and Abbott diverge on other issues. Abbott’s education plan focuses on improving pre-kindergarten through third grade by implementing what he termed “gold standard” programs with incentivized funding based on standardized testing and increasing state support of research universities for a combined cost to the state of a modest $198 million — $158 million for pre-K and $40 million in research grants. By comparison, Davis proposes introducing universal full-day pre-kindergarten, raising teacher pay, reducing standardized testing, fully funding the college educations of an unknown number of students through state grants and pushing Texas colleges to attain Tier One status, all while becoming more affordable. These proposals won Davis the endorsement of the Texas State Teachers Association at the end of August. While Davis’ ambition is both evident and commendable regarding the improvement of education in Texas, the feasibility and practicality of implementation remains unspecified.

Davis would have Texas voters believe that the reason these measures are not already in place is because of “insiders” working against the Texas education system. Davis even asserted that Abbott was one such insider via Twitter on Aug. 28. The reason that Davis’ proposals, revolutionary as they are, are not already in place is simple: The state cannot afford them.

Although Davis has repeatedly failed to put a price tag on her proposals, despite the urgings of her constituents and opponent, independent researchers have not. W. Steven Barnett, the director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, said a conservative estimate for Davis’ universal pre-K program alone is $2 billion. Davis has stated on the record that she plans to pay for her proposals with the $4 billion she believes the state could gain by cutting corporate tax loopholes or with Texas’ Economic Stabilization Fund, colloquially known as the ESF or rainy day fund, which Davis projects to contain $8.6 billion by the end of the 2015 fiscal year.  Half of the funds directly at Davis’ fingertips would be depleted through the execution of only one of her proposals. Once Davis spends the rest of the money, the execution of her other proposals lies in the hands of another lawmaking body entirely: the Texas State Legislature. 

Access to the ESF can only be secured by a two-thirds vote in the Texas House of Representatives. To further complicate matters, Davis’ plan to fund her proposals operates on projections for the end of the 2015 fiscal year. The Legislature doesn’t meet in 2016, delaying the House vote on this issue until three years into Davis’ term, unless Davis plans to call an emergency legislative session for a non-emergency. Even then, it is unlikely that a Democratic governor could secure the votes needed to access the ESF or raise taxes, her only other option for funding in an overwhelmingly “red” state. To be blunt, Davis’ ideas are impossibilities, at least for the present. And nobody knows this more than Davis. The Davis campaign remained either unwilling or unable to answer questions regarding the details of executing her proposals after five days of ongoing communication. 

As a Texan, it is irresponsible to vote for something that can never be a reality, simply because it’s a good idea. Let me be clear on one thing: Davis’ education proposals cannot become a reality. The money is not there and neither is the will of the legislature. But this should not be news, and I should not be the person telling Texas voters this. Senator Davis has repeatedly refused to put a price tag on her proposals, and she has misdirected her constituents to believe the impossible. Senator Davis’ proposals are excellent ideas, but she lied to Texas voters when she said she could execute them, and that is not the governor Texans need.

Smith is a history junior from Austin. Follow her on Twitter @claireseysmith