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Gubernatorial Debate Flap Takes Center Stage As Abbott Unveils Higher Ed Plan

Shelley Kofler
Republican Candidate for Governor Greg Abbott appeared with GOP lawmakers as he announced his plan for higher education.

Attorney General Greg Abbott brought his campaign for governor to Dallas Tuesday to draw attention to his plan for higher education. But the hottest buzz surrounded debate jockeying between Abbott and his Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis.

Abbott says his higher education plan would hold public colleges and universities accountable for graduating students on time with marketable degrees. To do that, he proposed an idea the Legislature has considered before: Linking a portion of a school’s state funding to graduation rates. 

Abbott said his plan will also save students money by offering more college courses on the Internet.

“We must increase online college learning opportunities and count successful completion of those courses toward degree requirements,” he told journalists gathered at a press conference at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Abbott admits some online diplomas cost more than traditional degrees when universities charge extra online fees. He says the University of Texas at Austin doesn’t do that and would be a model for other schools.

“It costs $1,400 less per student per semester. If you multiply that out, it means more than $10,000 in savings per college career,” he said.

Abbott says college would also cost less if universities give more credit for Advanced Placement courses taken in high school.

Both Abbott and opponent Wendy Davis have promised to help Texas universities achieve world-class research status known as Tier One. Abbott would dedicate $40 million for that.

In proposing her higher education plan a week ago, Davis called for creating a board that would coordinate between employers and schools to better prepare students for technical careers.

She wants more funding for the state’s low-income grant program and a sales tax exemption on textbooks.

Davis also blasted Abbott for defending the way the state pays for educating students in Kindergarten through 12th grades.  Last week, a judge found the school funding system unconstitutional and Abbott’s attorney general’s office promised to appeal.  The judge has given state lawmakers until June to make improvements before implementing his ruling. Abbott offered few details, but said his proposals would ensure the system is legal.

“If you look at what I’ve laid out for pre-K through third grade education -- ensuring that children are reading and doing math on grade level by the time the finish third grade – that’s showing real tangible policies that will achieve great results," Abbott said. "And if Texas is on a pathway of education excellence, that means that by definition we are satisfying the constitutional mandate of educating our children appropriately.”

While Abbott was talking education Tuesday, the debate over debates flared again. Davis and Abbott have agreed to square off Sept. 19 in McAllen. 

But last week, Abbott pulled out of a Sept. 30 debate sponsored by WFAA-TV, saying the format didn’t provide enough structure.

He then accepted a longstanding debate invitation from KERA, The Dallas Morning News, KXAS-TV and Telemundo 39.  On Tuesday, the Davis campaign announced she will begin talking with KERA about that debate.