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Abbott Praises Dallas ISD's 'ACE' Model, Wants More Education Funding

Lara Solt for KERA News
English Teacher Amber Wilson prepares students for state testing on March 28, 2018 at Thomas A. Edison Middle Learning Center, one of the seven initial ACE schools Dallas ISD launched in 2015.

Gov. Greg Abbott paid a visit to Dallas Tuesday because he says the school district has a proven system that works. He's considering several statewide education improvements from Dallas and elsewhere in Texas.

Speaking at an afternoon event at Solar Preparatory School for Girls, Abbott said the district’s ACE program, Accelerating Campus Excellence, has consistently turned around low-performing schools since it launched in 2015. The program, which recruits top teachers, serves kids three meals a day and extends the school day, has since been adopted by other North Texas districts.

“If we have the very best teachers, teaching the students who need those teachers more than anybody else, that is a strategy that’ll move the needle the most,” Abbott said.

Dallas school district leaders, like trustee Miguel Solis, say they know ACE works. Before Abbott’s visit, Solis told reporters it’s time for the governor not only to fund the ACE program but also to increase overall statewide education funding, especially after education cuts in 2011 were never fully restored.

“I don’t want to continue to have hollow hope," Solis said. “They need to take what they hear from DISD — as they have now session after session — and they need to act on it. If they don’t, they’ll keep coming and seeing some cool programs but they won’t see it to scale, and they won't get the results that Texas is due.”

Abbott knows there are skeptics. He says he’s sincere about improving education for all Texas kids and that there needs to be more school funding. But, he says, each district is different.

“What may work in Dallas may not work in Levelland,” Abbott said. “Different educators in different ISDs operate differently. The reality is working through the complexities of all the different ISDs takes longer [and] is more complex than saying DISD has a great product that is working.”

Dallas Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, who participated in the roundtable with Abbott, is ready to take the governor at his word.

“This is the first time I’ve heard leadership of the state say it’s time to put more resources in it,” Hinojosa said. “So, I think he’s really serious. He wouldn’t be spending this much time if it was a hollow promise.”

Abbott says he plans to take what he’s learned in Dallas and at an earlier roundtable in New Braunfels back to Austin so lawmakers can craft an education plan the governor can successfully sell to the Texas Legislature, which meets in January.

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