Texas gubernatorial hopeful Greg Abbott held back from taking a position on private school vouchers or state education funding during a Wednesday appearance at a San Antonio charter school.
When asked for his views on vouchers and other proposals like tax credit scholarships that would allow parents to receive public funding to send their children to private schools, Abbott stopped short of ruling out such policies.
"Competition is an essential element to achieve my goal to have Texas schools ranked the best in the country," Abbott said, after noting that his "focus is not on vouchers at all" to improve public education. He spoke with reporters briefly after a mostly behind-closed-doors discussion with charter school leaders at KIPP's Camino Middle School.
The Republican frontrunner, who has served as the state's attorney general since 2002, took a similar approach when asked about the $5.4 billion reduction to state public school funding lawmakers passed in 2011. He declined to criticize the Legislature's action, saying that he could not "go back and reconstruct" what happened two legislative sessions ago. When pressed on whether current public education funding in Texas is sufficient, he said his responsibilities as attorney general prevented him from answering the question. His office is currently defending the state in a lawsuit brought by more than two-thirds of its school districts last year as a result of the cuts.
Abbott did say that as governer, he would have a clearly defined goal: to "make the education system in Texas the No. 1 ranked education system in the entire United States of America."
"No one before now has come out and said what our priorities should be in education in the state of Texas," he said. "And I'm doing just that."
The stop was the second in a series of statewide education roundtables Abbott's campaign launched last week. Abbott is expected to unveil detailed policy initiatives in January.
Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Wendy Davis, a state senator from Fort Worth who has made her record on education policy a centerpiece of her campaign, has recently lobbed attacks against Abbott for both a perceived support of vouchers and his legal role in defending the state budget cuts in school finance litigation. Davis filibustered those school funding cuts in the session prior to her now-famous abortion filibuster.
"Greg Abbott refuses to condemn the $5 billion in cuts to neighborhood schools in Texas because he supports them. Greg Abbott wants to be governor, but refuses to give a direct answer on whether he supports vouchers," Davis spokeswoman Rebecca Acuna said in a statement after Abbott's Wednesday event.
At the event, Abbott also disputed the Davis campaign's assertion that he favored vouchers.
"Sometimes people say things without looking to see if they are based on fact, and I have never said anything like that characterization," Abbott said.