Governor Abbott’s first State of the State address started out strong, but then he lost me.
I was pleased to hear the Governor declare early education his first “emergency item,” saying “our children and their future have no time for delay.” Pre-Kindergarten is the smartest and most cost-effective investment in education – yet only 52 percent of Texas 4-year-olds are currently attending Pre-K. Research shows that low-income students who attend high-quality Pre-K programs make the greatest educational gains. There’s nothing to prevent the legislature from adopting a high-quality, full-day Pre-K program this session. At CPPP we will continue to advocate for this smart down payment on our state’s future.
Like the Governor, CPPP wants to “make college more affordable and more accessible.” A quality education improves our society and keeps the Texas workforce competitive. But in 2012, more than half of graduates from Texas’ public universities finished with debt averaging more than $22,000. This is much higher compared to 43 percent of graduates with average debt just more than $14,000 in 2001.
And it’s reassuring to hear Governor Abbott propose a budget that funds mental health screenings for veterans and service members. All Texans with mental illness deserve access to treatment, but today Texas jails and prisons are the state’s largest provider of mental health services – not a smart investment. We think an innovative peer support re-entry program could provide better mental health services and reduce rates of reincarceration.
But the Governor lost me when he shifted to calls for budget cuts and austerity. How can you say early education is an emergency item and then set an artificial limit on the amount Texas lawmakers have to fix it? Drastic cuts in previous legislative sessions have had real consequences on Texas’ ability to compete and succeed. The Governor’s plans would only make it harder to dig out of the hole we’re in.
You can’t have it both ways. I applaud the Governor for prioritizing mental health and education. Now it’s time to make smart investments in today’s children so they can be tomorrow’s leaders.