At RedState Gathering in Atlanta on Friday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott sat down with PJ Media to talk about education. Abbott, who was a featured speaker at the conservative confab, weighed in on Common Core, the role of the federal government in education, and the effects of illegal immigration on Texas schools. As an added bonus, Governor Abbott also threw in some great parenting advice!
Asked if there have been any negative consequences as a result of his state’s decision not to adopt the Common Core standards, Abbott clarified that Texas has gone beyond “not adopting” the nearly national standards for English language arts and math for K-12 schools.
“We have formally rejected it,” Abbott said. “We passed a law prohibiting Common Core in the state of Texas. That’s how emphatic we feel about it.”
Some of the ramifications of that decision have been troubling, however, he said. “The administration pretends there are no consequences, but the reality is, there are strings attached to the funding that comes from the federal government that affect your ability to control your own curriculum.” He added that Texas is at loggerheads with the Department of Education over some of the ways the state structures its education system. “Which is why — one of the many reasons — we need to have a president to rein in the Department of Education and cut any strings that are attached to funding that come from the feds.”
The Texas governor said he would be fine with eliminating the Department of Education. “I see no reason for it in the United States Constitution. It is something that is better conducted at the state and local level. If there is going to be a Department of Education it must not have any strings attached to any of the funding that is provided to the states that mandate curriculum at the state level.”
Asked if he’s concerned about Common Core coming into his state via textbooks that are aligned to the standards, Abbott said, “In Texas we have a State Board of Education that is in charge of our textbooks and they are vigilant in looking to ensure that Common Core is not seeping into the state of Texas.”
Abbott does not think Texas kids will be at a disadvantage, even though college entrance tests like the ACT and SAT are being aligned to the standards. He pointed to recent educational outcomes in his state. “Texas ranks second in the United States in high school graduation rates. However, on other standardized tests, such as AP exams, we see African Americans and Hispanics in the state of Texas passing AP exams at a higher rate than other large urban areas in the country,” he said. “And the 2015 AP Independent School District of the Year — from the east coast to the west coast, only one could be number one — number one was the Irving Independent School District, which is a suburb of Dallas. And it’s not what you would categorize as an ‘upper crust’ school district. This is a very diverse school district. It shows that our education system in the state of Texas is working in an outstanding way.”
Abbott downplayed concerns that we haven’t yet seen the changes in the college entrance tests as they relate to Common Core.
“Two plus two equals four, whether it be in Common Core or not Common Core,” he said. “And the same concept could be extrapolated to other issues. Now that’s largely what the ACT and SAT are all about. Those are certain fundamental concepts that apply reasoning skills and English and verbal skills. The way that grammar works is the same, regardless of whether or not you’re taught Common Core.”
Abbott defended his decision to appoint Donna Bahorich, a homeschooling mom, to the state Board of Education, a move that generated some controversy.
“We have a very large homeschool contingent [in the state]…and a very large process of education being provided through a lot of different ways,” he said. “But those issues aside, the reality is, if you met this woman and talked to her and knew who she was — if you were able to comprehend her knowledge of education, her commitment to education, her ability to get things done — you would say this is a good choice.”
He added that his encounters with homeschoolers across the state of Texas have been very positive. “I travel the state all the time and almost every day I will run into some students and their parents who are homeschooled. And I think 100% of the time, when I encounter those students, I find someone who is very respectful, conducts themselves very professionally, and seems very sharp, intelligent, and focused. The products I see from homeschooling in Texas are very, very substantial, profound, and effective.”
Asked how illegal immigration affects schools and education in Texas, Abbott said, “Hugely.”
Citing Plyler v. Doe in the 1970s, Abbott said, “That was a case where the United States Supreme Court said that states are required to admit to school and provide funding for education in primary and secondary schools — to anyone who is in the state, whether you’re in the state legally or not.”
He said Texas has an extremely high population of students who are in the state without authority and Texas taxpayers are footing the bill. He said that for many of these students, basic English skills are lacking and their skills are typically not up to the same age standards as other kids in Texas. “And so we hire a lot more ESL teachers and we have other educational hurdles that must be cleared in order to address the challenges that students who come here from other countries deal with.” He said that less than half of the people coming over the border are from Mexico, so there are many different language barriers.
“So we are facing huge economic challenges and logistical challenges in dealing with the standards that have been established by the federal government and the United States Supreme Court. That is going to be one thing I am demanding that the next president change. The states should not bear the burden of financing this broken immigration system.”
Finally, on a lighter note, we asked the governor if he would talk about the best parenting advice he ever received.
Abbott, whose daughter recently graduated from high school and began college, said the most important piece of advice he received was one that he followed. “Spend as much time with your child as you possibly can. I held off on career advancement on other things to make sure I would spend that quality time with my daughter.”
He said he mandated on his schedule that he would be home three full nights a week so that he would be there with his daughter as she was working her way through school.
“Sometimes she needed me, sometimes not. She always knew that I was there. And we would have regularly scheduled times when we would watch movies together, go to the park together, or do some fun things together. And there’s nothing more rewarding in life than a parent spending time with a child. And I hope the converse is true — I think it is — that is there is nothing more rewarding for a child than to have a parent involved in their life.”