Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Wendy Davis' Ambitious Education Plan Sounds Expensive

Posted By on Tue, Aug 26, 2014 at 2:17 PM

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Sen. Wendy Davis, Democratic gubernatorial candidate, released her education plan at San Antonio's Palo Alto College. Photo by Alexa Garcia-Ditta

Today, Wendy Davis, a Democratic senator from Fort Worth who is running for Texas governor, unveiled her education plan, which includes doubling dual credit options for high school students, boosting technical and vocational training, making college affordable by enhancing financial aid and exempting college textbooks from the sales tax.

Davis said she wants to strengthen opportunities for all Texas students from early education through college, especially those students “who work hard but fall through the cracks just because of what they look like or where they came from.

“Educating our children is about creating jobs of tomorrow and strengthening our economy for decades to come,” she said in San Antonio today, surrounded by area college students at Palo Alto College.

Davis’ plan also calls for full-day prekindergarten for all of Texas’ little ones and better training, recruitment and retention of public school teachers. As far as higher education goes, Davis wants to create what she called a “Career-Technical Coordinating Board” to connect local industries, community and technical colleges, and public high schools to give students a chance to move into vocational jobs. She also wants to open the B-On-Time loan, which incentivizes timely college completion by forgiving the loan amount upon graduation, to part-time students.

“Today, some students can’t get the financial aid they qualify for because their schools don’t have the funding,” she said. “In Texas, no student who is seeking an education and qualifies for financial aid should be denied.”

The elephant in the room, of course, is how Davis plans to pay for the lofty elements of her plan, given the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature’s penchant for keeping state spending low. In responding to various questions about the price tag, Davis repeatedly promised to “work with the Legislature,” and wouldn’t go into detail about which funding stream she would utilize. She said, however, that she would tap “existing” resources.

Davis knows firsthand the damage the Texas Legislature has done to public education. In 2011, she filibustered against the state budget, which included more than $5 billion in public education cuts, leaving schools across Texas with overcrowded classrooms and fewer teachers. The 2013 Texas Legislature restored some of that funding in the last session, but a lawsuit challenging the overall school finance system brought against the state by more than 600 school districts is still on going, and Davis decried her Republican opponent Attorney General Greg Abbott’s defense of the system (which, as the state’s attorney, he is obligated to do, but she’s called on him before to settle the case).

"Sen. Davis continues to present talking points and press releases dressed as policy proposals that contain few details, lack any cost information and will grow the size of government," said Amelia Chasse, deputy communications director of Abbott's campaign. "If this were an assignment, her grade would be ‘incomplete.’ Texans deserve a leader that presents real solutions, not more slogans and fuzzy math."

Throughout her time in the Legislature and now into her campaign, Davis has made education a high priority issue, something she says is inspired by her firsthand experience of being a first-generation college student who started at a community college and worked her way to law school.

It’s no secret that nationwide the cost of paying for college has increased dramatically in the past decade. In the Lone Star State, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board estimates the cost of tuition has increased by more than 80 percent since 2003. At the same time, state support has gone down, leaving college unaffordable for more and more students.

Celia Arsuaga, a junior at the University of Texas at San Antonio, is a first generation college student studying public relations, with her sights set on political communications. She said she relies on student loans for most of her education because her family couldn’t afford to send her.

“The path that I took didn’t come without a cost,” she said. “I took out student loans that I needed, and I worry every day about whether that will make it harder for me to build a new life after I graduate.”

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