Abbott defends latest criticism on pre-K policy tour

AUSTIN -- Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott stopped at IDEA Carver Academy in San Antonio to continue talk over his campaign proposals for pre-Kindergarten programs.

Yet two days after the Republican gubernatorial hopeful's campaign released a 26-page policy paper on early education, opponents Wednesday seized on a single sentence.

Family background has the most decisive effect on student achievement, contributing to a large performance gap between children from economically disadvantaged families and those from middle class homes, began the second paragraph on page two of Greg Abbott's Educating Texans Plan: Pre-K -- Third Grade.

The controversy stems not from the substance of the sentence, but from the name cited in the page's footnote drawing questions: Murray, Charles. Read [sic] Education. New York: Crown Forum, 2008. In addition to writing Real Education, Charles Murray co-authored the 1994 book The Bell Curve, which sparked academic uproar by suggesting IQ is tied to race. Explaining his research in a December 1994 interview with C-SPAN, Murray stated the mean IQ for African-Americans by most tests, it's about 15 points below the white mean, and that has created the huge controversy.

An e-mail from Davis' campaign also pointed out Murray had been listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a White Nationalist, and included a link to a 2005 opinion column in which Murray suggested women have smaller brains than men and played a proportionally tiny part in the history of the arts and sciences. Texas Democratic Party communications director Emmanuel Garcia issued a statement Wednesday afternoon chastising Abbott's inclusion of Murray's name in the policy paper.

It s no surprise that a major piece of Greg Abbott s education plan cites Charles Murray, because Murray s beliefs align perfectly with Abbott s. Murray believes that women and minorities have inferior intellect -- that explains why Abbott thinks it is ok to pay women less than men, and minorities less than Anglos, wrote Garcia. It also explains why Abbott defends gerrymandered voting districts and harsh voter ID laws that directly impact a woman's ability to vote and the voting strength of Texas minority communities. With a history of aligning his campaign with questionable figures like Ted Nugent and Charles Murray, it is clear that Abbott is working hard to define his positions against the interests of most Texans.

Abbott's campaign noted Wednesday that no objections were raised over the substance of sentence, which was paraphrased from Murray's work. Abbott himself responded to questions concerning Murray that Democrats had chosen to focus on petty politics rather than the issues addressed in the paper.

It doesn't take long to do any kind of research to realize that Murray is someone who's been widely cited by President Bill Clinton; who was named by the National Journal as one of the fifty people who made a difference in national policy, said Abbott. The Republican candidate pointed to Murray's work being cited in U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the San Antonio Express-News as well the Dallas Morning News. Compared to a single Murray citation, Abbott countered his paper cited President Barack Obama several times.

I have great differences with Barack Obama and his administration, but it shows what I'm willing to do to step up to engage in the fight that must be waged for the future of our state. We need to put the ideas of everybody on the table, discuss those ideas, and figure out the best pathway forward, Abbott continued. What I will do as governor of this state is I will chart the course to elevate Texas to number one, while others worry about pebbles on the pathway to achieving greatness.

Abbott's proposal suggests expanding pre-K without raising standards would be a waste of money. It would give an extra $1,500 per student to programs which meet specific standards including rigorous curriculum and parental involvement. Participating programs would also be required to track student progress and submit to evaluation. Chuck DeVore, vice president of policy with the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, believes the plan would help ensure state funded pre-K programs aren't used as free day care.

It's cautious and measured in that let's look before you leap and spend hundreds of millions of dollars of additional taxpayer money, said DeVore. Does the program really work? Does it accomplish the educational objectives that the proponents say it'll accomplish?

Public education advocates say the benefits for poor and English-learning children have been already proven. Gathered Tuesday in front of an Austin pre-K campus, they argued for Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis' proposal to offer full-day pre-K statewide.

We need some new leadership in this state that isn't going to twiddle its thumbs and say 'we've got to study the problem some more.' We know what the problem is. We know what the solutions are, and they're investing in those people right there, Texas American Federation of Teachers secretary-treasurer Louis Malfaro said Tuesday while gesturing to a playground full of pre-K students.

Abbott will continue to promote his early education proposals in campaign stops this week. A second plank in his overall education policy plan is expected later this month. The two distinct visions for the future of education in Texas will no doubt continue to provide material for debate.


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