Texas’ White fo­cused on ed­u­ca­tion

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Jim Ver­tuno

AUSTIN, TEXAS» For­mer Texas Gov. Mark White, a Demo­crat who cham­pi­oned pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion re­forms that in­cluded the land­mark “no-pass, no­play” pol­icy for high school ath­letes dur­ing his sin­gle term in of­fice, has died. He was 77.

The for­mer gov­er­nor, who fought kid­ney can­cer for years, died Satur­day in Hous­ton shortly af­ter wak­ing up and feel­ing uncomfortable, ac­cord­ing to his wife, Linda Gale White, and his son An­drew White.

“He cared about Texas deeply,” his son said. “He re­al­ized that this wasn’t about get­ting re-elected. This wasn’t about be­ing pop­u­lar. This was about mak­ing Texas a bet­ter place.”

White was gov­er­nor from 1983 un­til 1987. He was Texas’ at­tor­ney gen­eral when he de­feated in­cum­bent Gov. Bill Cle­ments, Texas’ first Repub­li­can gov­er­nor since Re­con­struc­tion who spent a then-record $13 mil­lion on his re-elec­tion cam­paign. Cle­ments came back to beat White four years later.

White’s ed­u­ca­tion re­forms in­cluded pay raises and com­pe­tency tests for teach­ers, class size lim­its for el­e­men­tary schools and the cre­ation of the state’s high school ba­sic skills grad­u­a­tion test. White also pushed through a $4 bil­lion tax hike for schools and high­ways.

In a 2011 in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press, White said he tried to model his ed­u­ca­tion plat­form on what his mother, a for­mer first-grade teacher, talked about she ex­pe­ri­enced in the class­room.

“It was all de­signed around what a first-grade teacher needs,” White said. “It was prob­a­bly the broad­est-based ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram in mod­ern U.S. his­tory . ... I was very proud of what we ac­com­plished.”

White ap­pointed Dal­las bil­lion­aire Ross Perot — who ran for pres­i­dent as an in­de­pen­dent in 1992 — to lead a spe­cial panel on ed­u­ca­tion that de­vel­oped some of the key changes. The no-pass, no-play ini­tia­tive, which barred stu­dents from play­ing school sports if they were fail­ing a class, was a po­lit­i­cally tricky and un­pop­u­lar move in a state crazy about its high school foot­ball. It had to sur­vive a chal­lenge in the state Supreme Court.

White un­der­es­ti­mated the pas­sion­ate re­sis­tance to no-pass, no-play that sparked protests and a few threats of vi­o­lence.

“It was hor­ri­ble,” White said in 2011. “I mis­read the in­ten­sity of it un­til I saw it for my­self in West Texas. My se­cu­rity peo­ple thought I should go by my­self: ‘Here’s my gun. You go.’”

A state district judge blocked the pro­vi­sion be­fore the state Supreme Court ruled it was a le­git­i­mate func­tion of the state’s goal to pro­vide qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion. But White still had to de­fend the rule dur­ing his los­ing cam­paign in 1986.

“Leave it alone,” he im­plored state law­mak­ers as he left of­fice in 1987. “Let’s be real: Any­one who can study a play­book can study a text­book. Amer­i­cans didn’t get to the moon on a quar­ter­back sneak.”

White also pushed Texas to move fur­ther from its agri­cul­tural roots and ties to the oil econ­omy by try­ing to at­tract new in­dus­tries. Dur­ing his term, drop­ping oil prices world­wide shook the state’s econ­omy.

White con­sid­ered him­self the sym­bolic leader of new breed of Texan who em­braced the emerg­ing era of high tech­nol­ogy and warned the state’s res­i­dents they would not find their fu­ture at the bot­tom of an oil well.

Mark Wells White Jr., was born in Hen­der­son on March 17, 1940. His fam­ily moved to Hous­ton where he at­tended pub­lic schools be­fore at­tend­ing Bay­lor Univer­sity, where he earned de­grees in busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion and law.

Af­ter sev­eral years as an as­sis­tant at­tor­ney gen­eral, White went into pri­vate prac­tice. He was ap­pointed sec­re­tary of state by Gov. Dolph Briscoe in 1973 and was elected state at­tor­ney gen­eral in 1979.

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