First-Take Notes on Messaging and Politics in Lt. Governor Patrick’s Public Ed Presser

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s press conference today was a  textbook Patrick effort to garner media coverage in order to shape the legislative agenda after several weeks marked by the relatively predictable public assertions of Governor Abbott. The overall effort was geared to deliver a Republican approach to public education after a session in which Patrick and his allies focused primarily on creating a means of funneling public funds to private and parochial schools in the name of “school choice” as their major approach to improving public education.  Here are some of the messaging components in the press conference, with some notes on how these messages might fall in the public opinion landscape among Texas Republicans.

There is no new money for spending on schools. The context of this, of course, is that new taxes or even new sources of revenue are off the table for statewide Republicans and, for that matter, most Texas elected officials.

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Redesigning the system of K-12 public school funding in Texas23%12%13%
Establishing a school voucher program in Texas3%4%5%
Continuing to limit government by approving no new spending and no new taxes9%19%21%
Lowering property tax bills for homeowners15%29%23%
Lowering business taxes4%2%3%
Increasing state funding for border security operations4%8%19%
Increasing funding for Child Protective Services22%6%6%
Don't know/no opinion19%20%9%

So, the goal is to make schools and school districts cut wasteful spending to pay for increasing teacher salaries. The University of Texas / Texas Tribune Poll has indicated that, in the absence of trade-offs, both Democrats and (at a lower rate) Republicans see increasing teacher pay as good bet to improve the quality of K-12 education in Texas. But Republican support decreases significantly for simply increasing funding for public schools, and most Republicans think that the schools are already adequately funded. 

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Extremely effective49%20%27%
Somewhat effective35%37%37%
Not very effective5%17%17%
Not at all effective3%15%12%
Don't know8%10%7%

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Extremely effective53%30%21%
Somewhat effective30%29%30%
Not very effective6%17%21%
Not at all effective4%13%17%
Don't know7%11%11%

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Creating a school voucher program5%9%21%
Expanding the number of charter schools2%9%10%
Increasing the pay of public school teachers16%19%9%
Increasing funding for the public school system32%7%14%
Providing more incentives for individuals to choose teaching as a profession10%7%6%
Reducing the number of standardized tests students must take18%27%21%
Increasing opportunities for online learning4%6%4%
Grading individual schools on an A-F scale5%6%9%
Expanding state-funded, pre-kindergarten programs8%9%5%

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Too much4%8%17%
Too little69%41%28%
About the right amount13%29%41%
Don't know/no opinion15%22%15%

The State Legislature should assert more authority over how schools and school districts allocate their funds. As we’ve noted elsewhere, the new assertion of state sovereignty over local political and social institution really has legs as an umbrella concept for Republican priorities in state politics -- and those seeking to carry them out.

The Lt. Governor can talk forcefully and in detail about public school finance and not mention vouchers or scholarships or school choice hardly at all. While there’s no reason to believe that the Lt. Governor has given up on one of his perennial policy priorities, the sustained lecture on school finance and teacher pay – complete with visual aids – certainly provides a demonstration that, after a session in which school finance was consistently de-emphasized in favor of school choice, the Lt. Governor can pivot to speaking about public education in a Republican key. Given divisions on the issue among GOP voters and the votes taken in the House during the regular session, it’s an understandable move going into the special session in which the governor’s call doesn’t invest much in the issue. 

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Strongly support8%19%23%
Somewhat support19%25%32%
Somewhat oppose13%14%17%
Strongly oppose48%34%19%
Don't know11%9%9%

Using the proceeds of the sinful lottery for a virtuous purpose will find a ready audience, and perhaps divert attention from the fiscal maneuvering the reallocation will likely require. Republicans don’t like gambling much, compared to Democrats (this data point was generated in the throws of the great recession, where gambling was keyed to increased revenue for the state).

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Banning all gambling and gaming in Texas2%16%12%
Leaving current gambling laws unchanged8%6%15%
Allowing limited expansion of gambling, but only in existing locations14%9%10%
Expanding gambling but only to Indian reservations8%1%5%
Allowing full casino gambling in Texas60%62%51%
Don't know7%6%8%

The Lt. Governor wants you, as many Texas Republicans as possible, and his allies in the House to know that he and Speaker Straus are neither allies nor chums. Um… yeah. This. So much for trying to talk reporters out of accentuating the personal in their efforts to convey an understanding of politics and policy in Texas to their readers and viewers. This confirms our sense that not much got discussed at those breakfasts beyond the quality of the bacon and the mild Spring in Austin.

On the other hand, the Lt. Governor wants you to know that he and the Governor are a team. This doesn’t mean, of course, that with the special session about to start, the Lt. Governor won’t ramp up his efforts to shape the agenda and generate more press coverage to increase his name recognition among the public – which he’s been pretty successful at overall, within the natural limits of the job. By the way, the Governor is announcing his re-election campaign tomorrow.

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Approve strongly27%
Approve somewhat18%
Neither approve nor disapprove12%
Disapprove somewhat9%
Disapprove strongly29%
Don't know4%