ARLINGTON — Unveiling her first major policy initiative as a candidate for Texas governor, state Sen. Wendy Davis on Thursday vowed to increase the supply of teachers, pay them more and help wipe out the debts they rack up in college.
“I do believe that education must be the No. 1 priority that we address as a state,” the Fort Worth Democrat said. “Texas leadership hasn’t really provided the focus and the priority on education that it demands and that it deserves.”
Davis wouldn’t say how much the plan might cost or how she would come up with the money to pay for it, but she said she believed she could implement it without raising new taxes.
The centerpiece of the plan: Texas students in the top 20 percent of their high school class would get automatic admission to Texas colleges and universities, including the University of Texas at Austin, provided they promise to become teachers. Once they graduate with the requisite teacher certification, they would be guaranteed a job in a Texas public school.
Davis said the supply of teachers must increase to keep up with the state's exploding population.
Davis unveiled the proposal after a roundtable discussion with educators and school administrators on the campus of the University of Texas at Arlington. The plan is one of several education policy initiatives she expects to roll out in coming weeks.
Titled “Great Teachers. Great Texas,” the plan includes six planks. Among them is a proposal to expand the underfunded Teach for Texas Loan Repayment Assistance Program. According to the Higher Education Coordinating Board, the number of applicants has far exceeded the amount of available funding throughout the nine-year history of the program.
Davis vowed to make the program available to “all qualified students,” expand it to include more teachers and tie the loan forgiveness more directly to service in a Texas school district
Saying that Texas pays its teachers thousands of dollars below the national average, Davis also pledged to work to erase that gap.
“We must show them that they are worth the investment that we are willing to put into the hard work that they do,” Davis said.
Speaking with reporters after the roundtable discussion, Davis would not give an estimate on how much the program might cost, saying, “We’ll be working on developing that as we go forward.” She said some of the goals might not be accomplished “overnight” and would have to be implemented over time.
The campaign of Davis’ expected Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, was quick to criticize the lack of detail about how to finance the new programs.
"Sen. Wendy Davis’ proposals are more fuzzy math – a plan that will increase spending and impose more mandates on Texas universities without explaining how to pay for it,” said Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch. “Greg Abbott believes in genuine local control of education: empowering parents, teachers and principals to serve our students well.”
Davis said she believed there was enough money in state coffers now to cover the new proposals. She also said she does not “intend as governor to propose any tax increase.”
“Right now under the leadership that we’ve had in Texas, the Legislature has been instructed to constrain, constrain, constrain and not to prioritize as a goal,” she said. “Strengthening the public education environment through additional resources, within existing state resources, I absolutely believe we can fund, and make a priority, public education in the state of Texas."
Asked how her vision of education would differ from Abbott's, Davis said that differences would be highlighted soon.
“This month we’ll highlight the difference between us,” Davis said. “This month, of course, I’ll be talking in great detail about my plan for prioritizing public education in Texas while General Abbott is in a courtroom defending the cuts that were made to public education. I think it’s a pretty clear distinction between what our focus and our priorities are.”