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Guest Post: A classroom teacher, a superintendent, and a state senator talk about #txed

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

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Date Posted: 7/28/2023 | Author: Laura Herrera

ATPE member Laura Herrera is a 21-year educator and teaches prekindergarten in North East ISD in San Antonio. She is an alumna of both Leadership ATPE and the Teach Plus Texas policy fellowship program, as well as a member of the ATPE Board of Directors. Herrera was invited by The Texas Tribune to provide the teacher perspective during a July 25 panel entitled “Where Do Public Schools Go from Here?” The other panelists were Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), chair of the Senate Education Committee; Dallas ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde; and Laura Colangelo, executive director of the Texas Private Schools Association.

Following the panel, ATPE asked Herrera to share her impressions of the experience.

Herrera_Laura_23.jpgATPE: After listening to Sen. Creighton during the panel, what is your assessment of the Senate Education Committee chairman’s priorities as we head into a fall special session on education?

Herrera: I expect more of the same. I feel like “Parent Bill of Rights” and “Teacher Bill of Rights” were phrases used to distract from the real emergency—which is not school choice, even though Gov. Abbott seems to keep voicing that idea. The real emergency is funding public education in Texas and paying Texas educators a livable wage. I want legislators to understand that what they are doing is not sustainable to the future of Texas public schools. Schools are short-staffed, budgets are tight, and teachers are once again asked to make miracles happen with very little to begin with. 

ATPE: Do you think educators are likely to see a pay raise or additional funding for education come out of a special session?

Herrera: I wish I could say I was hopeful an educator pay raise will come from the fall special session, but truthfully, it doesn’t seem likely. It feels like offers of funding are just a bait-and-switch to try to pass a voucher, not an actual priority for folks like Abbott, Patrick and Creighton. Thankfully, many school districts all across Texas are hearing their teachers and recognizing inflation and the concerns about salary by giving small raises and going into deficit budgets, but I believe that is just a Band-Aid in the bigger picture. The school district budget shortfalls because of said raises will affect resources and support to campuses, which in turn always falls onto the shoulders of teachers. We are many times expected to work with less but still produce success every school year. Retaining and recruiting teachers should be on everybody’s radar. The multi-faceted skills a teacher must possess throughout the school day are skills that should be compensated accordingly. A teacher must assess his/her own executive functions before the day starts, and then move into assessing, revising, supporting, and modeling how children in their classroom can learn best before the curriculum can even begin. If you invest in salary pay raises, then you can ensure that the respect you say you have for teachers is felt across all schools in Texas.  

ATPE: Why do you think it’s important for your fellow educators to be engaged in these conversations?

Herrera: Educators are the scapegoats for everything that is wrong in public schools. The negative rhetoric and politics have been at an all-time high. Sitting on the sidelines is not an option anymore. Our profession is being attacked by people who have no experience in the classroom or public schools in Texas. Teachers are the heart of all public schools across Texas. We have the potential to be a mighty voting bloc and motivate an even bigger voting bloc of parents. We need to use our voices to bring truth and transparency and ask for accountability from those we vote for to make decisions that affect us. I don’t need a verbal “thank-you for all you do”; I need legislators who believe what we do in public schools is important. We are educating and molding young minds to be the future for Texas. Why wouldn’t you want to invest in a well-prepared future for Texan citizens? Legislators are chipping away at funding the public education  system, and I’m wary of what will be left if they are allowed to continue. Teachers need to feel that passion when they walk into their polling place and be informed voters. That means making the time, asking the questions, and researching your leaders and the people running for office. Teach the Vote is my go-to place where I can find those answers easily and quickly.   

ATPE: Was there anything you wish you could have said during the panel but didn't have the time to?

Herrera: Sen. Creighton mentioned what he perceived to be a lack of involvement and feedback from teacher organizations regarding the “Teacher Bill of Rights” and other issues during the session. I am fortunate to have the ATPE Governmental Relations team to speak on members’ behalf at the Capitol, so I disagreed with that statement. I think teacher organizations and Sen. Creighton disagree on what constitutes teacher rights in some cases—and based on the way it was presented at times, it seemed apparent that vouchers were being pushed no matter what. Just because he thinks a bill is good for teachers, it doesn’t mean that teachers agree. I follow the GR team on Twitter and can vouch for the hard-working lobbyists we have with ATPE. They attend committee hearings, live-tweet, and give testimony in support of hard-working Texas educators. Teacher organizations have teachers’ best interests in mind. His comments made me reflect on my volunteer journey with ATPE and how many amazing opportunities that have been given to me to build my teacher capacity.  My involvement with Leadership ATPE, attending ATPE at the Capitol, and serving as a local unit officer and region director all prepared me well for this moment. I hope that my voice reminds Sen. Creighton and other legislators that the decisions they are voting on affect my livelihood and gives them the perspective from the real-world life of a Texas public educator. 

ATPE: If educators are frustrated about the decisions coming from the governor and state legislators, what should they do about it?

Herrera: Make a plan. Be engaged. Be informed. Be involved. I know sometimes that is hard for an educator to do. Faculty meetings, tutoring, coaching, extracurricular activities, and our everyday teacher lives leave little in the gas tank. I appreciate how the Teach the Vote blog posts and text notifications keep me in the loop! When energy is low, I need all the help I can get! It’s easy to use ATPE’s Advocacy Central email templates to write to my lawmakers, and a phone call is something I can accomplish in a short amount of time. 




Gayle Sampley

I am so glad I was in the studio and got to watch you in action! You could not have been more brilliant. Teachers across the state should be proud you were the one on the panel representing us. Well done, Laura!

Diane Payne

Thank you, Laura Herrera! You said exactly what needed to be said! 👏👏👏👏👏

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