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Running For Governor, Greg Abbott Talks Education, But Policy Details Scarce

Bill Zeeble
Attorney General Greg Abbott, the state's leading Republican gubernatorial candidate, hears from Plano ISD school board members and educators in his first education roundtable

Attorney General Greg Abbott, the leading Republican candidate for governor, was in Plano Tuesday to focus on schools.  It was the first of his statewide visits before finalizing his education policy. His likely Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, wasn’t there, but she was still part of the discussion.

Greg Abbott visited Plano’s Academy High School to ostensibly learn about its innovative use of technology. The STEAM campus blends science, technology, engineering, math, and art. Thanks to help from nearby Texas Instruments, it also boasts some of the latest digital learning tools. That’s especially interesting to Abbott.

“Whether it’s taught in school or not, kids are learning digitally,” Abbott said. “That is only going to increase. Texas needs to be in the vanguard of leading the way in this nation, and learning digitally.”

While he was there, Wendy Davis said in a statement that by defending $5 billion in budget cuts to schools, Abbott wasted taxpayer funds and put the state’s future at risk. She said Plano ISD lost nearly 190 teachers after the cuts in 2011. Abbott’s response?

“If she were governor, would she ask her Attorney General not to defend the laws passed by the legislature?” he said.

Abbott said the legislature restored most of the slashed funds in the last session.

“The attorney general in Texas takes an oath of office to defend the laws passed by the legislature,” Abbott said. “I’m fulfilling that duty.”

Abbott plans a series of these education roundtables statewide before releasing a policy paper. While he’s offered few specifics so far, he says education’s a top issue.  David Lee, with Dallas’ largest teacher group, The Alliance/AFT, doesn’t believe it.

Most educators and those who follow education policy in Texas know Abbott as the defender of the indefensible," Lee said. "And that was the budget cuts in 2011 that left us with an inadequate, inequitable funding system that was found unconstitutional by a state judge earlier this year.”

Abbott, who’s married to a principal, and with a child in school, says he’ll focus on improving public education so Texas can be number one in educating its kids. He said vouchers are not part of his focus, as they have been for past Republican candidates. And he mentioned another reason he likes virtual, or digital, education.

“Digital-based learning, when implemented appropriately, can do a good job of containing the cost of education," he said.

Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles, who was not at the session, agrees to a point. He said a great college teacher can reach hundreds of bright high school kids simultaneously with digital technology. And tablets can save on pricey hardback books. But Miles said technology is no magic bullet.

“At the same time, we’re still going to need really effective teachers to guide the learning and we’re going to need effective principals to guide schools,” Miles said.

Educators like Miles, and the administrators Abbott met in Plano, are eager to learn what education policies result from these meet-ups. It will be several weeks before his policy is ready.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.