Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew White on Wednesday proposed a $6.5 billion plan to tackle an "education emergency" in Texas, in part by expanding gambling in the state and redirecting the state's border security funding.
White, who is locked in a primary runoff with former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, said his plan includes a $5,000 teacher pay raise, universal full-day pre-K and a $5,000 college scholarship for anyone who graduates from a public high school with a 3.0 GPA or better. It would be paid for by ending the state's $800 million, two-year commitment to border security, as well as allowing slot machines and table games at horse tracks and a "few destination resorts." The rest of the funding would come from closing a commercial property tax loophole that White has been campaigning against since launching his campaign.
Zeroing out border security funding and expanding gaming would likely be political non-starters in the current GOP-dominated Legislature, but White insisted he expects the Legislature's political makeup to change in the November elections. On gambling in particular, White said, the issue should be put to the voters if state lawmakers are resistant.
Announcing the proposals at a news conference in Austin, White called for a special session to address the issue and hammered Republican Gov. Greg Abbott for having the wrong priorities, pointing to Abbott's recent decision to heed President Donald Trump's call and send hundreds more National Guard troops to the border.
"I stand here today to ask Governor Abbott: Why do you create fake emergencies while ignoring the real ones, like Hurricane Harvey and our failing education system?" said White, a Houston native who has been critical of Abbott's refusal to call a special session to tap the state's saving account, known as the Rainy Day Fund, to deal with the storm recovery.
Abbott's office declined to comment Wednesday. In a statement, Valdez said she has "long stated that Governor Abbott's shameful assault on our public schools is hurting Texas."
"Since day one of this campaign, I have been calling for truly investing in our schools, for fixing our school finance system to ensure the state pays their fair share, for increasing teacher pay to pay them like the professionals they are, for providing high quality pre-k to every child in Texas, and more," she said. "It's time for a governor who will put our students, teachers, and families first. That is what I intend to do."
White is the son of late Gov. Mark White, who was known for championing public education. The younger White has been looking for an advantage in the May 22 runoff against Valdez, to determine who will challenge Abbott. The education plan White unveiled Wednesday was his second policy rollout; he announced a jobs proposal earlier this month.