SAN MARCOS, Texas (AP) — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis called Saturday for offering pre-kindergarten programs for all Texas youngsters despite the steep price tag — saying anything less would doom many students to failure later in school.
Fresh off a much-publicized chat with President Barack Obama two days earlier, the state senator from Fort Worth addressed a friendly crowd at the annual convention of the Texas State Teachers Association in San Marcos, south of Austin. She contrasted her education platform with that of her Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, saying "essentially he's created a plan that picks and chooses which of our students succeed and which do not."
Davis wants full-day, pre-K programs for all 4-year-olds, which she estimated would cost $750 million annually.
"Every child, every child, every child!" Davis repeated to a standing ovation.
Abbott has outlined a pre-kindergarten plan that calls on districts to improve the quality of preschool before the state considers spending money on full-day programs — while providing up to $118 million in pre-K funding for districts that meet higher standards.
Davis, though, says that would require standardized testing to measure youngster performance.
"Four-year-olds should be coloring with crayons, not filling in bubbles with No. 2 pencils," she said.
Abbott spokesman Avdiel Huerta responded Saturday that Davis' "lies about Greg Abbott's early education plan have already been proven false by the fact checkers."
"So it's hardly surprising she is clinging to a yet another false narrative," Huerta said in an emailed statement.
Leticia Van de Putte, a fellow state senator from San Antonio who is the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, also addressed the convention. She will face the winner of a Republican runoff next month between Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and tea party-backed state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston.
Davis and Van de Putte aren't formal running-mates since Texas doesn't elect dual slates. Still, the pair represent just the fifth time in the past 20 years that a party has nominated women for both governor and lieutenant governor.
The Texas State Teachers Association has endorsed Davis and Van de Putte and didn't invite Abbott, Dewhurst or Patrick, providing a receptive crowd and campaign rally-style event for the Democratic lawmakers.
Attendees waved signs reading "Wendy" and "Leticia" around the slogan "Great schools for every child."
At one point the lights unexpectedly went out, prompting Van de Putte to quip: "I guess the Republicans really ARE getting scared."
Davis met briefly with Obama Thursday, while the president was in Austin to give a speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act during a summit honoring the accomplishments of President Lyndon B. Johnson.
"We talked about the Voting Rights Act and the unwinding of some of the civil rights gains that President Johnson fought so hard to achieve," Davis said of her talk with Obama.