DALLAS — Gov. Greg Abbott is looking to the budget conference committee to sort out a dispute over his prekindergarten initiative as it becomes clear he cannot rely on the House and Senate to fully fund the program in their spending plans. 

"The House has a plan. The Senate has a plan. The governor has a plan," Abbott said Tuesday in a speech to the Dallas Regional Chamber. "Anybody who knows anything about how the Legislature works realizes that the real plan that’s going to come out is the one that’s going to come out in conference committee, and that will be sometime in late May."

Abbott's remarks came roughly an hour before the Senate passed its budget, which defunded his pre-K initiative. The proposed budget in the House also snubs it. 

Abbott's initiative, which he has billed as "high-quality pre-K," sets aside grant money for school districts with pre-K programs that meet certain standards. In his State of the State address in January, Abbott had sharp words for lawmakers as he urged them to fully fund the program, telling them to "do it right or don't do it at all." The last day of the legislative session is May 29.

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Abbott had wanted budget writers to allocate $236 million for the program over the next two-year budget period. The Senate budget instead set aside $65 million for a "public-private partnership" for a pre-K program — not Abbott's. 

Abbott nonetheless expressed optimism as he touted the program in Dallas, saying it is "gaining great strength in the great state of Texas." He added that the "good news" is that lawmakers in both chambers are making allocations to "address our pre-K education process." 

"It looks like the question is not if pre-K is going to be funded," Abbott said. "Instead it looks like we’ve moved beyond that issue, and the issue now is which strategy is going to be the best strategy to fund pre-K education in the state of Texas."

Abbott was less talkative Tuesday about the elephant in the room: the "bathroom bill" on which he has yet to take a position. Business groups, including the Dallas Regional Chamber, oppose the legislation, which would require transgender people to use the bathroom in public schools, government buildings and public universities that matches their "biological sex."

Dale Petroskey, president and CEO of the Dallas Regional Chamber, told the crowd for Abbott's speech that he had talked with the governor earlier in the day about a number of topics, including the bill. Speaking with reporters afterward, Petroskey declined to go into further detail about his conversation with Abbott other than to say it was a "great discussion."

As he left the event, Abbott was surrounded by reporters asking him about the legislation. "You saw my tweet earlier today," he eventually responded, apparently referring to a tweet in which he shared an article casting doubt on the idea that North Carolina's economy took a serious hit after it passed a similar measure. 

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"Looks like the naysayers were wrong," Abbott tweeted, followed by the story's headline: "With bathroom bill North Carolina economy expanding, tourism thriving." 

Read more from The Texas Tribune:

  • Gov. Greg Abbott raised many eyebrows last week when he threw his support behind a "broad-based law" that pre-empts local regulations, a remark that did anything but calm the already contentious local control battles at the Texas Capitol. On Monday, Abbott did not back away from the idea, saying that the country is not called the "United States of Municipalities." 
  • As local control battles rage at the Texas Capitol, Gov. Greg Abbott is voicing support for a much more sweeping approach to the issues that have captured headlines. 

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