Allegations from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Flat Earth brigade that pre-kindergarten programs are “Godless” and “socialistic” have as much basis in fact as equally ludicrous claims from extremists who believe that any sensible form of gun control is “treason.”
In truth, according to various academic studies, pre-K and other early childhood education programs are extremely important in giving children, especially kids from low-income, under-privileged families – who are a majority of Texas school children — a solid start toward a quality education. Pre-K helps these kids learn how to learn with other children in a classroom setting.
So far, the quality of political debate during this year’s legislative session is probably the lowest I have encountered in many years of watching the Texas Legislature. But that’s what happens when public officeholders give ideology an equal footing with reason.
Patrick claims to have been caught without warning this week when his hand-picked tea party “advisory board” issued its statement denouncing Gov. Greg Abbott’s pre-kindergarten proposal, one of the governor’s legislative priorities.
You can believe Patrick if you want, but he should have expected nothing else when he appointed the group of right-wing, anti-government ideologues. In any event, Abbott challenged the lieutenant governor on the development during a testy meeting of state leaders yesterday, as initially reported by my friend, R.G. Ratcliffe, in Texas Monthly.
To be sure, TSTA and other public school advocates are disappointed in Abbott’s bill because we believe it doesn’t go far enough – it wouldn’t even completely restore the funds cut from pre-K grants in 2011 – and it would put too many restrictions on pre-K programs. We believe full-day pre-K should be made available to every eligible child in Texas, which probably makes us maniacal “communists” in the eyes of Patrick’s tea party “advisors.” But we don’t want to see pre-K become a victim of shortsighted right-wing politics.
It is no secret that Patrick already is eyeing a race for governor – that’s why he appointed his tea party advisory board to begin with — and Abbott doubtlessly realizes that Patrick wouldn’t hesitate to try to defeat him in the 2016 Republican primary, if given the opportunity.
It would be a shame if pre-K were to become a victim of right-wing politics. But remember, folks, elections have consequences, and we are being reminded of that fact every day this Legislature is in session.