On Monday night, Gov. Greg Abbott gave his biennial State of the State address, where he presented his five emergency priorities for this session. Only one priority was related to educating the students of Texas: increasing broadband internet access for rural citizens.
In his 31-minute speech, Abbott spent slightly more than 2 minutes on education, which represents a large portion of the state budget and homeowners’ property tax bills.
Abbott brought up House Bill 3 (the 2019 school finance bill that included teacher pay raises) and said the state is “closing the digital divide” by partnering with school districts to provide internet and e-learning devices for students. He also mentioned the need for more civics education, which would expand a student’s understanding of the Constitution and the freedoms that makes Americans unique, encouraging citizens to become involved in the process.
However, Abbott did not make education reform an emergency priority, nor did he ask for any spending limits or budget cuts. He also didn’t mention priorities to address concerns such as the need to suspend the STAAR exam, the increasing shortage of teachers and substitutes, students falling behind due to school district COVID policies, or the lack of consistency in those COVID policies.
Also, none of the emergency priorities addressed long-standing education issues like attendance, student apathy, or out-of-control spending by administrators.
Abbott’s mention of civics education does have support in the Texas Legislature, as Democrats have introduced two bills on the issue: Senate Bill 229 by State Sen. Nathan Johnson (Dallas) and House Bill 57 by State Rep. James Talarico (Round Rock).
But Abbott’s address didn’t sit well with educators. One Dallas-area secondary teacher stated:
“Teachers have been taken for granted in this state for too long. Governor Abbott not mentioning the issues plaguing educators currently is an insult to everyone in education. Also, teachers are not considered frontline workers, yet we are around hundreds of people for 8-plus hours a day. And most in school districts aren’t even able to follow basic COVID protocols, putting us even more at risk.”
Questions remain on whether education ranks as a legislative priority for Abbott and how he plans to address the growing amount of education issues in 2021.