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Two Republicans vie to lead public education to new era

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Lawmakers will return to the State Capitol again in January after cutting more than $4 billion from public education in 2011.

It’s safe to bet that parents, teachers and education advocates will be ready to rally against more cuts this time around.

Two men are currently in the lead for the Senate committee that drafts public education legislation. Given last session’s outcry against school funding cuts, they are going to have a lot on their plate after the first gavel-in.

Republican Sen. Dan Patrick says he stands by the legislation passed last year.

"What we did last session I thought was very responsible,” Patrick said. “The cuts were minimal. We protected the classrooms as much as we could. The average school district was cut 3 to 4 percent."

The second contender, Republican Sen. Kel Seliger, said the position requires a leader ready to seek solutions.

"The question is not that the person who chairs the committee have all the answers, but can that person kind of lead the process where we can be productive and conclusive,” Sen. Seliger said. “That's the challenge."

Harvey Kronberg with the Quorum Report says a main point of contention for the chair will likely widely be around private school vouchers. The vouchers would allow parents to take part of what the state spends to educate their children in public schools and use it to cover tuition at private schools.

“Seliger comes from mostly rural school districts and rural school districts have dramatically different needs than urban school districts," Kronberg said.

The issue of vouchers is not well accepted among education groups across the state, buy it’s an idea Sen. Patrick is pushing, along with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Gov. Rick Perry.

"Dan Patrick really went out on a limb to support Lt. Gov. David Dewhust among Tea Party types during the Senate campaign. Dewhurst owes him," Kronberg said.

This is the first time there's been an opening for the Senate Finance Education Committee Chair since 2003.

The current chair, Senator Florence Shapiro, did not seek reelection this year.

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