Tag Archives: 2020 elections

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 10, 2020

For many Texas educators, this week marked the beginning of an uncharted journey into distance learning. Our ATPE Governmental Relations team applauds all the educators who are rising to the unprecedented challenge. As always, we are here to provide the latest in education news. The ATPE state office is closed today, April 10, but our staff will be back in action next week and ready to help you find your way through these uncertain times. We hope you get to enjoy the weekend and this edition of Teach the Vote’s Week in Review.


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: The worlds of the novel coronavirus and education were a bit quieter this week, but many questions remain on the long-term impact of the pandemic. Texas educators are facilitating distance learning and conducting other essential work even though Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the closure of Texas school buildings until at least May 4th, and some localities and districts have extended their closures beyond that date or even for the rest of the school year. Abbott held two press conferences this week, but neither provided further updates regarding education.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has been issuing and updating its guidance for public schools on a daily basis, but numerous questions remain, especially for educators and those working to become educators who are concerned about job security. This week, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier summarized what we know so far about changes to educator preparation and certification procedures in this blog post for Teach the Vote. We also await a response to ATPE’s call for accommodations regarding educator evaluations, on which so many compensation and job-related decisions are based. As we reported last week, ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes sent a letter to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to request statewide action regarding educator appraisals, which are unlikely to yield fair and valid results under current conditions. Read more in this ATPE press release.

For a quick recap of where we stand, here are other notable state-level developments pertaining to the pandemic:

  • After Gov. Abbott cancelled this year’s STAAR tests, Texas sought and was approved by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to waive statewide testing and accountability. All districts will be “Not Rated: Declared State of Disaster” for 2019-20.
  • If you’ve seen a graphic circulating on social media with what looks like “Woody” from Toy Story, it is probably TEA’s “Stay Well, Texas” public health campaign, which school districts are helping to roll-out.
  • Parents can use TEA’s “meal finder” tool and pick up meals without their children being present, thanks to an waiver granted to Texas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • The TEA coronavirus resource page is chock-full of resources (mainly geared towards district leaders) relating to instructional continuity, special education, testing, graduation, and more. New guidance added to the TEA site this week includes FAQs on FERPA, the SAT, ACT, TSIA, and AP/IB tests, FEMA assistance, and Information Technology, plus child care support sample documents, a list of available waivers, and TELPAS and LPAC Guidance.
  • TEA has launched a partially-complete website that includes home learning resources for families, districts, and teachers.

At the federal level, Congress has approved substantial federal aid packages, including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or CARES Act, which provide billions in funding for individuals and businesses, along with waivers from various federal laws to facilitate relief. Attempts to advance another piece of coronavirus relief legislation stalled this week in Congress after partisan disagreements. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced this week new spending flexibility waivers under the CARES Act that would purportedly allow school officials to dedicate funds to distance learning and virtual classrooms. As we reported last week, DeVos has also floated the idea of “microgrants” for students and teachers, which are essentially vouchers and have not yet been approved by Congress.

  • ATPE has helpful information about the CARES Act here, including more on the direct cash payments to individuals that are expected to be distributed soon by the U.S. Treasurer.
  • Read ATPE’s information about the FFCRA’s expanded paid leave benefits here.

For guidance on dealing with COVID-19, we encourage educators to visit ATPE’s frequently updated Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page.  Also, follow the ATPE lobbyists here on Teach the Vote and on Twitter for related legislative and regulatory news.


ELECTION UPDATE: The Texas Democratic Party filed a second lawsuit against the state this week over mail-in ballots, this time in federal court. According to a report in the Texas Tribune, Texas Democrats were concerned by Monday’s party-line decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that resulted in Wisconsin voters being forced to vote in person this week in contradiction to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Texas Democrats are asking the state to expand eligibility for mail-in ballots so that voters are not forced to expose themselves to COVID-19 in order to cast a ballot. Current Republican Party of Texas Chairman James Dickey has voiced opposition to expanding mail-in ballots, suggesting that mail handlers could also risk COVID-19 infection. Gov. Greg Abbott stated in March that “everything’s on the table,” but has been relatively quiet on the subject since then.


We reported last week that the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission has released its sunset staff recommendations for the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS). While TRS can’t be abolished through the sunset review process unlike other agencies, the commission staff have identified several issues that the legislature will likely address during the next legislative session in 2021. Check out this new blog post from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, which takes a deeper look at one of the major issues raised by the sunset report: a recommendation that TRS should “repair its relationship with its members by focusing on their needs.”


ATPE joined 17 other organizations calling on Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to place a moratorium on charter expansion during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Because charters cannot levy taxes, the state picks up the tab in order to fully fund every charter school student. ATPE believes the expansion of charter enrollment during a pandemic with extremely uncertain financial outcomes would be fiscally irresponsible. In fact, the 94 charter expansion amendments currently on file with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) could cost the state an additional $90 million per year if approved, money that may be sorely needed to shore up budgets of existing public schools across the state. Read more in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins


This week, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar sat down for a virtual conversation with the Texas Tribune to discuss what the novel coronavirus means for our state’s economy. Hegar said that Texas is in a recession but will be able to meet current budget obligations through August 31, 2021. In the summer, Hegar will release an updated revenue estimate that will likely be several billion dollars less. Since the state pumped billions into education during the last legislative session, educators worry that continued funding commitment might be hard to maintain. Read a full rundown in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


Census 2020 self-response rates as of March 8, 2020. (Source)

The 2020 U.S. Census is still underway, and everyone’s response is critical for many important streams of funding, including for public education. Texas’ response rate has increased from 36% last week to over 41% this week, but we are still behind the current national rate of 46%. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, some census work has been delayed, making it more important to push online/phone/mail census completion options that can reduce the need for interpersonal interaction. Learn more about the 2020 Census in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier and find census FAQs here.


ATPE member Michelle Bish of Pasadena was featured this week in a news story by KHOU 11 news in Houston. While taking care of her own three children, Bish is also implementing distance learning for her third graders and staying in contact with her students’ parents. Bish says it is overwhelming but that we will all get through this together. In the article, she says:

“I cannot wait for this to be over,” she said. “This is not why I signed up to be a teacher. I wanted to be a teacher because I wanted to be present. Like, physically be in the presence of my students. You know, at school and being a part of them and teaching.”

We can’t wait for this to end either! In the meantime, we can help each other stay positive. ATPE wants to hear how you are adapting to a new educational environment during the coronavirus pandemic. Click here to email us your stories, best practices for distance learning, or strategies you’re using to stay upbeat during the crisis.


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 6, 2020

Election day was this week on Tuesday, March 3, and Texas is abuzz with the results. The ATPE Governmental Relations team has the scoop on what happened at the polls and other education news. Also happening this weekend: don’t forget to move your clocks forward one hour on Sunday!



BREAKING NEWS: Austin Mayor Steve Adler and other city officials held a press conference this afternoon to announce the decision to cancel the massive SXSW conference slated to begin next week amid concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus. Conference organizers quickly issued a statement indicating that they are exploring options for rescheduling the event and/or changing some of the programs to an online format. The cancellation also includes SXSW EDU, in which ATPE was slated to participate. We will report additional details about the cancellation as we learn them.

Meanwhile, school officials in Texas have been closely watching developments with the coronavirus. During an interview with the Texas Tribune on Friday, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath repeated that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) continues to monitor the virus. TEA sent a memorandum to school administrators last Friday advising that the agency is monitoring media reports and information shared by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and working with other state agencies to provide guidance to local school districts. The memo included the following list of general practices that will help prevent the spread of the illness:

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • If you’ve not already gotten one, a flu shot is encouraged.

Today, TEA sent updated correspondence to school districts offering guidance on dealing with students and staff who may travel over the spring break. TEA also used today’s letter to urge schools to deep clean and disinfect their facilities over the break.

According to news reports, a school district in San Antonio undertook a major cleaning of one of its elementary schools after learning that an employee of the school also worked in a local mall where an infected person reportedly visited. A spokesperson for Northside ISD told KSAT that the district took the step in order to “get ahead of false information.” In the Houston area, where a 70-year old Fort Bend man was diagnosed with the first local case of coronavirus, Pearland ISD announced this week that it would suspend perfect attendance rules for the remainder of the school year, as well as exam exemption criteria. Fort Bend ISD has not canceled any classes, and Fort Bend County has set up a hotline with information regarding the virus. Read more in this article from the Houston Chronicle.


ELECTION UPDATE: The percentage of voters who turned out during Texas’ primary elections on “Super Tuesday” was slightly lower than in the 2016 primary, with over 4 million casting votes. The number of voters in each party’s primary was split nearly 50-50.

In many races, Tuesday’s primary winner will be unopposed or face weak opposition in the November general election in November. Other races are headed to a runoff, including those of four incumbents in the state legislature. Read more on the results here.

Even if you didn’t vote in this primary election, you may still be able to vote in a runoff to make your voice heard on May 26, 2020. The deadline to register to vote in a primary election runoff is April 27, 2020, and early voting will begin May 18. Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to view an election countdown, get text reminders, and find additional election-related resources for educators. Also, remember that you can view candidate profiles and responses to ATPE’s candidate survey here on Teach the Vote. ATPE does not endorse candidates and invites all candidates to participate in our survey.


On Wednesday, March 4, Gov. Greg Abbott announced the launch of the School Safety and Victims’ Services Research Survey, to be distributed to approximately 500,000 educators across Texas. Read more about the survey in this article from the Texas Tribune. A link to the survey, which is said to take 20 minutes to complete, will be sent directly to educators. The results will provide invaluable educator input regarding school safety and will inform policy at the state level. Be sure to weigh in on this important topic!

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has also begun distribution of a voluntary survey aimed at high school counselors. School districts will receive the High School Counselor Survey and forward the link to their high school counselors in order to send information back to the TEA and the American Institutes for Research, “about the resources, activities, and tools that their teams use to assist students.” Read more about the High School Counselor survey from TEA here.


FEDERAL UPDATE: The U.S. Department of Education has announced a delay in changes that would reduce funding for many rural schools. Hundreds of rural schools around the country were facing funding cuts pursuant to a new federal interpretation of eligibility criteria for Rural Low-Income Schools (RLIS) grants. The department announced this week that it would postpone the change for at least another year, following criticism Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos received from members of Congress. Read more in this Teach the Vote blog post from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.


ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier reports that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) is sharing examples of some new STAAR test questions. House Bill (HB) 3906 passed by the Texas legislature in 2019 eliminated the STAAR writing tests given in grades 4 and 7. However, this change won’t take effect until Sept. 1, 2021, which means the grades 4 and 7 writing assessments will stay the same until the 2021-22 school year. Instead of standalone writing assessments, writing content will be assessed in the reading and language arts STAAR tests, as discussed below.

Sample STAAR revising and editing question, grade 4 (Source: TEA)

TEA will begin field-testing revising and editing questions on the reading/language arts STAAR test as part of the Spring 2020 and Spring 2021 assessments. These items will not impact accountability. To help educators understand what these new test questions will look like, the agency has released sample test questions such as the one pictured here.


Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath spoke Friday, March 6, at a live event hosted by the Texas Tribune and sponsored in part by ATPE. In an interview with the Texas Tribune‘s Evan Smith, Commissioner Morath touched on several topics, including the state’s preparedness for dealing with the coronavirus and implementation of House Bill (HB) 3. ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes, staff lobbyists, and members of our marketing and communications department attended the event. During an audience Q&A portion of the interview, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter asked the commissioner about teacher preparation and certification in light of state laws that exempt many school districts and charter schools from the requirement to hire certified teachers. The the commissioner responded that he believes teachers should undergo “extraordinarily robust training.” Watch video of the full interview with Commissioner Morath here.


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 28, 2020

Today is the last day of early voting in Texas! Whether you’ve already had your close-up with the ballot box or plan to vote on March 3, catch up on the latest education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: Today, Feb. 28, is the last day of early voting. Voter turnout has been steady in the state’s largest counties. Texas’ primary elections on “Super Tuesday” will be March 3, 2020. For the latest news on races in Texas, check out ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’ “election roundup” blog post.

If you haven’t made it to the polls yet, we’re bringing it back to basics to get you vote-ready.

    • WHO? Visual learner? Watch this video to learn how to view candidate profiles on Teach the Vote, which include responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey. ATPE does not endorse candidates and invites all candidates to participate in our survey. If your favorite candidate has not answered our survey, encourage them to contact ATPE Governmental Relations for additional details. It’s not too late!
    • WHAT? We’ve received many questions about the party-based, non-binding propositions that are on your primary ballot. Learn more about these philosophical statements proposed by the state’s Democratic and Republican parties in this Teach the Vote blog post. These measures won’t change the law, but they help state party leaders learn more about their voters’ opinions on key issues.
    • WHERE? Use Vote411.org to find your polling location and build a customized ballot that you can print out and take with you to the polls. (You won’t be able to use your phone inside the voting booth.)
    • WHEN? Today or March 3! Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to view an election countdown, get text reminders, and find additional election-related resources created for educators.
    • WHY? Did you know that some races are determined entirely by the primaries? Read more about why it is important to vote in the primaries in Part I and Part II of Teach the Vote’s “Primary Colors” blog series.
    • HOW? Get the scoop on how to vote, including guidance on new balloting systems in use in many polling places. Click here for tips!

Want even more? Read all the fantastic election features in our latest issue of ATPE News for Spring 2020 and find additional election reminders and tips on ATPE’s main blog at atpe.org. As you’re researching candidates and building your ballot, check out video of the recent candidate forums conducted around the state by Raise Your Hand Texas to learn more about the candidates’ views on public education.


FEDERAL UPDATE: The U.S. Department of Education has released the federal teacher shortage areas for Texas in 2020-21, which are largely consistent with those listed in 2018-19 and 2019-20. These include Pre-K-12 bilingual education, special education, and computer science, plus 7-12 career and technical education and mathematics. Since 2019-20, computer science as a shortage area has been expanded from only at the secondary level to covering all grades, likely reflecting career and technical needs across the country in our changing economy. The nationwide teacher shortage areas have implications for federal loan forgiveness and deferment options.

On Thursday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos sat before the U.S. House Appropriations education, health, and labor subcommittee to defend President Donald Trump’s education budget proposal, which we wrote about here on Teach the Vote. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier reports that members of Congress questioned the secretary on several issues, including spending and scandals associated with charter schools, discipline practices for vulnerable students, concerns about child vaping, and the mechanics of the proposed consolidation of 29 federal programs into one block grant. Secretary DeVos defended much of the proposal by stating that the department’s intent is to give more spending freedom and flexibility to states.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies before a subcommittee of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, Feb. 27, 2020 (Source).

Much of the hearing was devoted to criticism and defense of the proposed “Education Freedom Scholarships” and the civil rights risk associated with the department’s lack of commitment to ensuring non-discrimination. DeVos insisted that, because the scholarship program would be administered through the U.S. Department of Treasury, the voucher-like tax credit was not federal funding. This would free the program from being tied to federal protections for students such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and it seemed apparent that many committee members understood this impact. View video of the hearing here.


The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) conducted a survey of Texas public school districts on salaries during the fall of the 2019-20 school year. Just under half (49%) of districts responded, representing 84% of the estimated teacher population in Texas. According to respondents, the median starting salary for a new teacher is $44,000. This increase of 7.3% from 2018-19 is largely due to the passage of House Bill (HB) 3 and represents a one-time bump in salaries unless the Texas legislature increases the public school basic allotment again. A similar superintendent survey conducted by TASB showed a 3.1% increase in the average superintendent’s salary from 2018-19. See the full TASB teacher compensation survey for more information, including stipend trends and substitute pay. In both surveys, educators who work in larger districts were shown to receive higher pay.


In December 2019, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier reviewed Part I of a recent readability study of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). Mandated by the Legislature as part of last year’s House Bill (HB) 3, the findings in Part I left many questions unanswered. Chevalier reports that with the recent release of Part II, the study is now complete, but it still leaves us wondering if STAAR tests are written at the appropriate grade-level, as the results are mostly the same as in Part I.

Using 2020 STAAR assessments, researchers found that 99.5% of test items were aligned to the TEKS curriculum standards. As in Part I, researchers could not answer if items were at a grade-appropriate readability level due to a lack of confidence in methods and analysis. Lastly, the passage readability results were mixed, with researchers reporting multiple methods of analysis that lead to different conclusions.

Because this non-peer-reviewed study is entirely inconclusive on item readability and presents unclear results on passage readability, many questions remain as to the appropriateness of the use of STAAR in high-stakes decisions. As noted by Chevalier, if a student cannot understand a question because it uses vocabulary outside the scope of the student’s common knowledge, the child cannot be expected to answer it correctly.


Texas Senate Finance committee meets Feb. 25, 2020

The Senate Finance Committee met in Austin this week. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter reports that among other agenda items, the interim hearing included a review of the investment strategies and performance of funds invested through the Teacher Retirement System (TRS), the Permanent School Fund, and university funds. The committee has been charged during the interim with making recommendations to better coordinate and leverage Texas’ purchasing power to maximize investment income for the state.

The committee also added to its agenda an examination of the long-term facility plans of TRS, including specifically examining the facility space costs of housing TRS’s Investment Management Division. TRS Executive director Brian Guthrie delivered two presentations to the board: the first on TRS investment strategies and the second on long-term space planning for the agency.


Texas election roundup: Pro-public education endorsements

Early voting in the 2020 Texas primary elections begins next Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, which is also Educator Voting Day. In Texas election news, a new wave of candidate endorsements that may be of interest to educators were announced this week.

Texas Parent PAC, which exclusively supports candidates who support public education, announced 10 primary election endorsements this week. These include House District (HD) 9 Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), HD 41 Rep. Bobby Guerra (D-McAllen), HD 59 Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville), HD 60 candidate Dr. Glenn Rogers, HD 72 Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo), HD 100 Rep. Lorraine Birabil (D-Dallas), HD 119 candidate Jennifer Ramos, HD 127 Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), HD 128 candidate Robert Hoskins (R), and SD 27 candidate Ruben Cortez (D).

Texas Parent PAC is endorsing at least two candidates who are challenging incumbent legislators. Robert Hoskins is facing Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) in the House. Ruben Cortez, currently serving on the State Board of Education, is challenging Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) for a Senate seat. Both races have attracted media attention recently. As the Houston Chronicle reported, Hoskins has the support of nearly all the local officials in his suburban Houston district, while a handful of state representatives from other districts have been stumping for Cain. Meanwhile Sen. Lucio’s office was the site of protests this week by progressive activists who are unhappy with the senator’s voting record, as reported by KGBT.

The Austin American-Statesman endorsed Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) and Republican candidate Bud Wymore in the HD 45 Democratic and Republican primaries, respectively. The newspaper also endorsed Jenny Roan Forgey for the Republican nomination in HD 47, which is held by Rep. Vikki Goodwin (D-Austin), and recommended Jenai Aragona-Hales in the Republican primary for HD 49, a seat held by Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin). While Hinojosa’s seat is safely Democratic, Zwiener and Goodwin both managed to flip seats in 2018 that were previously held by Republicans.

Earlier this week, new Gary Gates (R-Rosenberg), Lorraine Birabil (D-Dallas), and Anna Eastman (D-Houston) were sworn into office as new state representatives for House Districts 28, 100, and 148, respectively. All three won special runoff elections in late January and are on the ballot in 2020 vying for a full term.

In federal election news, the Texas Tribune reported Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg announced plans to employ 24 staffers in Texas after strong finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. Michael Bloomberg, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders all have staff working in Texas ahead of the March 3 primary on “Super Tuesday.”

With early voting just a few days away, it’s important to remember that elections are decided by who shows up! Check out the election-related resources from our coalition partners over at Texas Educators Vote, including text message reminders when an important election is coming up. You can also research candidates in your own local races here at Teach the Vote. Please make plans to vote next week, and encourage your family and friends to do the same!

Election tips for educators: Know your rights and the rules

With the 2020 Texas primary election nearing, ATPE has been urging educators to be active and involved voters. We’ve shared resources on the ins and outs of voting, plus tools you can use to learn more about the candidates. Here on Teach the Vote, ATPE’s nonpartisan voter education website, we provide searchable profiles of every candidate vying for a seat in the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education this year, aimed at helping you learn their views about public education. We’ve also asked you to remind your co-workers, friends, and family members about the importance of voting in every election, helping them to become informed voters, too.

The 2018 elections saw a surge in voter turnout within the Texas education community, which paid off the following year: The Legislature in 2019 approved billions of dollars of additional funding for our public schools and higher pay for many teachers through House Bill 3. While new laws passed in 2019 are still being implemented, there is already anxiety about the state’s ability to maintain funding for House Bill 3 into the future, along with other pressing issues such as school safety, healthcare affordability, and student testing. Strong educator turnout in the 2020 elections will be even more critical if we want to keep public education at the forefront of the next legislative session.

Unfortunately, at the same time we’re doing our best to get educators fired up about voting, there are some who would prefer that active and retired teachers stay home on election day. One of their attempts to dampen educator turnout has been through intimidation, issuing dire warnings about election laws and the criminal consequences for educators who may cross the line. How do we keep educators enthusiastic about voting and encouraging others to vote while still helping them understand what they can and cannot do under the law?

Election laws can be complicated, and in this rapidly evolving area of the law, new regulations may be subject to varying interpretations, at least until they become time-tested and vetted by court cases that may take decades to resolve. Collisions can easily occur at the intersection of the First Amendment and the various state laws, administrative rules, advisory opinions, and official policies on political activity. There will always be plenty of “grey area” for legal scholars to debate, but in the meantime, there is at least one simple rule of thumb that can help public school employees figure out what’s allowed and what’s not. If you are showing support for a specific candidate, political party, or measure that appears on the ballot (such as a local proposition for a new bond or a constitutional amendment), then you should take care to avoid using any resources of your school district while doing so.

Get Out The Vote (GOTV) initiatives have long been accepted as nonpartisan activities that do not cross the line into what’s considered “political advertising” or “electioneering.” Encouraging people to vote, regardless of how they might vote, benefits no particular candidate or political party. High voter turnout is simply good for our democracy.

The rules get trickier when it comes to partisan activities, such as asking people to vote for a specific candidate or to support one political party over another. There’s a big difference between urging someone to “go vote,” and urging them to “go vote for _________.”

As educators, you have a constitutional right to undertake partisan activities. You are well within your rights to share with other people your personal preferences in any given election and even to try to persuade them to vote the same way. You can give money to a candidate or PAC, walk the neighborhood handing out campaign materials, or wear the candidate’s t-shirt to show off your support. But when it comes to partisan election activities and communications, it’s important for public employees to restrict those to their own personal time and assets. It is unlawful for public school employees to use school district resources for electioneering or political advertising. That means, for instance, that you should not print out flyers for your favorite candidate on the printer in the teachers’ lounge, and you should not use your school email address to send out invitations to the candidate’s fundraiser. In other words, if taxpayers are footing the bill for it, consider it off-limits when it comes to your own personal preference toward someone or something that will appear on a ballot.

For more guidance on what is and is not allowable for public school employees, school district leaders, and school board trustees to do during election season, check out these additional resources made for educators:

Educators can and should be active participants in the electoral process, and you have an excellent opportunity to model good citizenship and political involvement for your students. Make sure you know your rights and the rules, and then get out and vote!

Early voting for the 2020 Texas primary election runs February 18-28. Primary election day is March 3, 2020.

Beyond candidates: 2020 Texas primary ballot propositions

Candidates aren’t the only thing Texas voters will find on their ballots on February 18 when early voting starts for the 2020 Texas Republican and Democratic primary elections. Each party also puts forth a slate of ballot propositions for their voters to weigh in on.

In many elections ballot propositions pertain to bonds, referendums on local ordinances, or even constitutional amendments. But what are ballot propositions with regard to primary elections? Perhaps the best definition I’ve seen comes from the Republican Party of Texas website, which states as follows:

“Keep in mind that [ballot propositions are] an opinion poll of [primary] voters and not a policy referendum. When you vote YES or NO, you are telling us what you think should happen. You are not voting to make a law but merely saying you agree or disagree with the statement.”

Each party, Republican and Democratic, has put forth a set of value statements and is asking those who vote in the party’s primary to give their opinion on those statements. The Democrats have styled their ballot propositions as a “Texas Bill of Rights” containing 11 broad statements covering many policy areas. The Republicans have offered up 10 more narrowly tailored ballot propositions to their voters.

This year, each party’s slate of ballot propositions includes one or more statements related directly or indirectly to public education. The Texas Republican ballot for 2020 includes three such statements:

  • Republican Party Ballot Proposition #1:Texas should not restrict or prohibit prayer in public schools.
  • Republican Party Ballot Proposition #3:Texas should ban the practice of taxpayer-funded lobbying, which allows your tax dollars to be spent on lobbyists who work against the taxpayer.” This recommendation aims to prevent governmental entities from paying their staff or contractors to advocate for their interests. Were such a ban to be enacted, it could restrict school districts and public charter schools from paying lobbyists to advocate for public education, and it could also prevent those entities from paying dues or fees to any outside organizations that hire their own lobbyists.
  • Republican Party Ballot Proposition #5:Texas parents or legal guardians of public school children under the age of 18 should be the sole decision makers for all their children’s healthcare decisions including, but not limited to, psychological assessment and treatment, contraception, and sex education.” This statement is aimed at Texas public schools and other public and private institutions that exercise varying levels of involvement in “children’s healthcare decisions.”

View the complete list of Texas Republican Party primary ballot propositions for 2020 here.

Unlike their Republican counterparts who have proposed multiple recommendations on very specific facets of the public school system, Texas Democrats have presented only one broad question to their voters with respect to education:

  • Democratic Party Ballot Proposition #2: “Right to a 21st Century Public Education: Should everyone in Texas have the right to high-quality public education from pre-k to 12th grade, and affordable college and career training without the burden of crushing student loan debt?” This broad proposition addresses not only the quality of public education in grades pre-K through 12, but also affordability of post-secondary training.

View the complete list of Texas Democratic Party primary ballot propositions for 2020 here.

Remember that the propositions on your primary ballot have no force of law and are merely a “poll” of sorts to determine the views of a party’s voters. However, they are important in shaping the party platform and the issues or initiatives that elected officials from that party are likely to prioritize.

We hope all Texans who care about public education head the polls during the upcoming primary election; and when you do, be sure to vote not only on which candidates you hope to see on the general election ballot this November, but also on your party’s propositions that will help shape the values of the party those candidates will represent.

Early voting for the 2020 Texas primaries runs from Tuesday, February 18, through Friday, February 28. Election day is Tuesday, March 3.