SAN MARCOS — While addressing the Texas State Teachers Association’s convention in San Marcos on Saturday, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis accused her Republican opponent, Greg Abbott, of backing away from his early education policy proposal.
Abbott, the state’s attorney general, recently came under fire from Democrats and education advocates for language in a policy proposal that appears to call for the biannual testing of pre-kindergarten students. Although Abbott’s campaign said earlier this week that his plan does not call for such tests, Davis is keeping up the attacks.
“Under the guise of quality, he calls for putting these tests first — not our kids,” Davis said. “In his plan, his first assessment idea calls for another test for 4-year-olds. And if they don’t pass the mark, they get the rug pulled out from under them.”
Davis bashed Abbott for remarks made by campaign spokesman Matt Hirsch, who told The Texas Tribune earlier this week that assessment methods mentioned in the attorney general’s plan were “there for informational purposes only.”
“They are not part of Greg Abbott’s policy recommendations,” he said.
Abbott’s proposal calls for providing an additional $1,500 in state funding for each student enrolled in half-day pre-K programs if those programs meet “gold standard” performance requirements set by the state.
Announced over a week ago, Abbott's plan asks Texas lawmakers to require school districts with such programs to “administer assessments at the beginning and end of the year” to provide the state with “data necessary to properly evaluate” pre-K programs.
In a section describing how the state could monitor pre-K programs that opt into the plan, the proposal lists three methods of evaluating pre-K students — including “norm-referenced standardized tests” — that are cited in a 2012 report by the Educational Testing Service, a nonprofit organization that develops and administers tests worldwide.
On Saturday, Davis said Abbott was now attempting “to pull the wool over everybody's eyes.”
“Given how unpopular imposing more tests on our kids is, I understand why he’s trying to back away from what his plan says,” Davis said. “But 'informational purposes only'? Really? You gotta do better than that.”
In a statement, Abbott spokesman Avdiel Huerta called Davis’ remarks misleading and false.
“Sen. Davis' lies about Greg Abbott’s early education plan have already been proven false by the fact checkers, so it’s hardly surprising she is clinging to yet another false narrative,” Huerta said.
Huerta cited a PolitiFact analysis of a back-and-forth between the two candidates over a line in Abbott's proposal that says expanding state-funded pre-K programs “without addressing the quality of existing prekindergarten instruction or how it is being delivered would be an act of negligence and waste."
Davis, who in 2011 filibustered state budget cuts to public schools, has attempted to make education a key issue in the governor’s race. The Texas State Teachers Association endorsed her earlier this year.
Davis' own early education policy proposal, which the Abbott campaign has said is “short on substance and big on spending,” calls for increased access to full-day pre-K programs.
Abbott's proposal says “very high quality” statewide half-day pre-K must be achieved before the Legislature mandates full-day programs. His plan would leave the decision to expand pre-K programs up to local school districts.
Earlier this week, Hirsch, Abbott’s spokesman, said approved assessments that local districts could choose from would be dictated by Texas Education Agency.
Asked whether the attorney general would call on the TEA to not include standardized testing as an approved assessment, Hirsch said Abbott "would discourage the use of standardized testing for pre-K students."
On Saturday, Davis said the state should continue restoring the $5.4 billion in spending cuts to public education made in 2011 to fund expanded full-day pre-K programs for all students without increased testing.
“Four-year-olds should be coloring with crayons,” Davis said. “Not filling in bubbles with No. 2 pencils.”