Tag Archives: elections

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 7, 2018

Here’s the latest update on education news and legislative developments from your ATPE Governmental Relations team:


The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met today in Austin. On the agenda was the approval of new teacher certification standards, performance standards for preparation program accreditation status, and principal and teacher surveys. The board gave final approval (subject to SBOE review) to the pedagogy and professional responsibilities (PPR) standards for the new Trade and Industrial Workforce Training Certificate and to updated performance standards under the accountability system for educator preparation programs (EPPs). The board also approved final versions of the previously piloted principal and teacher surveys to be used for EPP accountability. Minor changes were made to the surveys; a number of duplicative questions were removed to avoid data overlap.

The bulk of the meeting was spent on a discussion item regarding a proposal from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to redesign the teacher certification process in Texas. The item was not up for action today, but still drew a large number of testifiers. The addition of a performance-based, portfolio-style certification assessment drew the most attention. Testifiers expressed concerns with cost, problems with the edTPA design, and fears of shrinking the teacher candidate pool, among others. Supporters raised the need for higher rigor in order to ensure teacher candidates receive adequate preparation, and they stressed that more than just a multiple choice certification exam should be required to demonstrate knowledge. The redesign item was only a discussion today, so no action was taken. For more on the discussion today, read this Twitter thread from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

 


With the regular session of the 86th Legislature only a month away now, school finance continues to dominate discussions about which education-related issues lawmakers will tackle earnestly in 2019. ATPE’s lobbyists have been reporting on the deliberations this year of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, which was tasked with making recommendations for legislative changes to the state’s beleaguered school funding system. A final report is expected from the commission this month.

Many of those recent school finance discussions involving legislators and policymakers have centered around the desire to provide property tax relief for homeowners and cap the amount of local taxes that can be levied by school districts and other municipalities. Decreasing the taxing burden at the local school district level is a popular idea, along with requiring the state to assume responsibility for funding a larger portion of the state’s education budget. But as Ross Ramsey writes in his analysis this week for the Texas Tribune that we’ve republished here on Teach the Vote, it remains unclear where additional revenue might be generated to offset the reduction in local property taxes. ATPE’s lobby team will continue to participate in and report on the discussions about school finance as we head into the upcoming legislative session.

Rep. Gary VanDeaver, ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes, and Rep. Travis Clardy at the TAMS conference, Dec. 6, 2018

On the heels of a competitive 2018 election cycle, many elected officials have also been talking about raising teacher pay. This week, two state representatives debated the issue of teacher compensation during a conference hosted by the Texas Association of Midsize Schools. ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes was invited to moderate the panel discussion, and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins provided this blog post about the event.

 


Register to attend the 2019 ATPE at the Capitol event taking place in Austin on Feb. 24–-25, 2019! ATPE members, this is your opportunity to be a part of the process when the Texas Legislature convenes next month.

On Sunday, Feb. 24, you’ll learn about the top education issues that will be on the front burner next session and receive training on how to become an effective advocate for your profession. On Monday, Feb. 25, you’ll head to the Texas Capitol along with hundreds of ATPE members to directly speak to legislators and their staff.

To learn more about this exciting event, please log in to atpe.org/advocacy-central to register (there is no registration fee). The deadline to register online for this event and book hotel rooms is Jan. 24, 2019. Take advantage and register early as hotel rooms are booking up fast. Please feel free to contact government@atpe.org. with any questions.

 


Houstonians will be heading to the polls once more on Dec. 11 to determine who will represent them in the state senate during the upcoming legislative session. After Sen. Sylvia Garcia vacated her seat to run for Congressional District TX – 29, a seat she won last month, a Senate District 6 special election was called by Gov. Greg Abbott in order to fill her seat. The two women leading the race to replace Garcia are well known Houston Democrats Rep. Carol Alvarado of Texas House District 145 (HD 145), Rep. Ana Hernandez of Texas House District 143 (HD -143), Democrat Mia Mundy, and Republican Martha Fierro. If a single candidate fails to capture 50 percent of the vote on Tuesday, there could be a runoff in January after the legislative session has begun. Early voting in the race ends today. Harris County voters can find poll locations and sample ballots here.

Dec. 11 will also be election day for a number of local races across the state, so find out what’s on your local ballot here.


12 Days of Voting: Vouchers

Early voting is underway NOW for the November 6 elections, so we’re taking a look at some of the reasons why it’s so important that educators vote TODAY! In this post, we’re taking a closer look at vouchers.


When it comes to issues facing public education as a whole, privatization remains one of the most existential threats. The endgame of those who are pushing private school vouchers is to defund the public school system in order to hand our kids over to faceless corporations that will crank them out cheaply and pocket the profits.

Think about it: In 2016, Texas spent $24 billion in state funds to educate our kids. Local taxpayers pitched in even more — $28.8 billion on top of that. It sounds like a lot of money, until you consider it was spread between 5.3 million students. That translated to just $11,133 per student, which puts Texas below the national average and among the states with the most miserly per-student spending.

Despite lagging below many other states, the money spent on Texas public schools is nonetheless a tempting target for predatory opportunists who see only dollar signs. Private schools that can ignore state and federal regulations are viewed by many as a cash cow. A warehouse with a skeleton crew of untrained staff could certainly churn out diplomas and graduate kids unprepared for college and careers for a fraction of the price of a quality public education. Pro-voucher legislators could brag about reducing spending while corporate stockholders rake in billions of taxpayer dollars, perfect for spending on fancy yachts and private planes – and campaign contributions to pro-voucher legislators!

Of course, the kids end up the losers in this scenario. And the 85th Texas Legislature witnessed the despicable lengths to which voucher supporters were willing to go to sell our kids down the road.

The legislative session began with fresh data indicating that Texans firmly oppose spending public taxpayer dollars to subsidize private school tuition. Led by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, voucher proponents instead focused on a voucher targeting students with special needs as a way to open the door. They also used terms like “education savings accounts” and “tax credit scholarships” to describe their voucher plans in the hope of garnering more support from those who traditionally oppose privatization. Voucher promoters even went as far as mailing fraudulent letters to lawmakers to promote their plan.

As ATPE pointed out, special education vouchers are especially troubling and would not come close to covering the full cost of services for children with special needs. In fact, they would give students far less money than the public school system is currently required to spend on their behalf. More importantly, they would force children with special needs to surrender their federal rights and protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Parents of special needs students wisely rejected this cynical attempt to exploit their children for political purposes. With the backing of parents, teachers, ATPE, and the majority of Texans, the Texas House of Representatives led by Speaker Joe Straus stood firmly against each voucher scheme brought forth in 2017. Legislators punctuated their stance with multiple votes on the House floor to reject vouchers.

As payback, Lt. Gov. Patrick killed a bill authored by members of the House that would have provided $1.5 billion in additional funding to benefit all 5.4 million Texas students – signaling how far the lieutenant governor was willing to go to pass a voucher bill against the will of Texas voters.

While voucher supporters were unable to pass a bill in 2017, they have already begun laying the groundwork for a renewed push when the legislature meets again in 2019. The only reason powerful leaders like Lt. Gov. Patrick and Gov. Abbott were unable to pass a voucher bill in 2017 is because Texas voters elected just enough pro-public education legislators to stop those bills from becoming law.

The reality is that unless Texans elect more legislators who promise to actively oppose vouchers, the threat of a voucher bill passing in the future remains high.


Go to the CANDIDATES section of our Teach the Vote website to find out where officeholders and candidates in your area stand on this and other public education issues.

Remind your colleagues also about the importance of voting and making informed choices at the polls. While it is illegal to use school district resources (like your work e-mail) to communicate information that supports or opposes specific candidates or ballot measures, there is NO prohibition on sharing nonpartisan resources and general “get out of the vote” reminders about the election.

Early voting in the 2018 general election runs Monday, October 22, through Friday, November 2. Election Day is November 6, but there’s no reason to wait. Get out there and use your educator voice by casting your vote TODAY!

12 Days of Voting: Turnout

Early voting is underway NOW for the November 6 elections, so we’re taking a look at some of the reasons why it’s so important that educators vote TODAY! In this post, we’re taking a closer look at voter turnout.


It may sound funny, but when you cast your ballot this week, you’re not just voting for yourself.

You first have to understand that Texas voter turnout is unfortunately pretty abysmal. Even in big election years like the 2016 Presidential Election, only 59 percent of registered voters in Texas actually voted. That’s barely more than half!

In effect, the half that voted made the decision for the half who could have voted, but chose to stay home.

When there’s no race for president, the numbers look even worse – especially when it comes to primaries. Just 10 percent of registered voters participated in the 2018 Republican Primary, while seven percent participated in the Democratic Primary. Turnout for the runoffs that followed ranged between one and three percent. Yikes!!!

Imagine – just one percent deciding races that will affect all 28 million people living in Texas. According to the math, each of those voters would effectively do the choosing for 183 people!!!

Turnout for the last midterm elections in 2014 was just 34 percent, and if turnout is the same this year, then each voter will be speaking for about five other Texas residents. If you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain!

ATPE state officers met with Speaker Joe Straus in March 2017.

With Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) retiring, the first order of business when the next legislature convenes in January 2019 will be for members of the House to elect a new speaker. Will the 150 members elected next week choose a leader who, like Straus, works to increase public education funding and defend kids and classrooms against harmful legislation? Or will they choose someone who will lower the gates to vouchers bills and declare open season on educators?

It all depends on the outcome of this election.

How much so? According to election news website txelects.com, organizations devoted to defunding and privatizing public schools spent more than a million dollars fighting public education allies in runoff races. These groups accounted for more than a third of the $3.3 million total raised by all candidates in the Republican runoffs. Would you spend a million dollars if you didn’t think you’d get something in return?

The people who want to privatize public schools aren’t sitting this election out. That means educators can’t afford to either.


Go to the CANDIDATES section of our Teach the Vote website to find out where officeholders and candidates in your area stand on this and other public education issues.

Remind your colleagues also about the importance of voting and making informed choices at the polls. While it is illegal to use school district resources (like your work e-mail) to communicate information that supports or opposes specific candidates or ballot measures, there is NO prohibition on sharing nonpartisan resources and general “get out of the vote” reminders about the election.

Early voting in the 2018 general election runs Monday, October 22, through Friday, November 2. Election Day is November 6, but there’s no reason to wait. Get out there and use your educator voice by casting your vote TODAY!

Early voting starts TODAY with Educator Voting Day!

It’s time!

Early voting starts today in the 2018 midterm elections, in which Texas voters will decide a number of important state and federal races. Not only is Monday the first day to vote early, it’s also Educator Voting Day!

The 2018 elections are critical for educators, because the outcome will have a direct impact on education policy in the next legislative session. Educators fought hard last session to protect their classrooms and their profession, and only prevailed with the help of elected representatives who shared their interest in supporting our public schools. Many of those allies are retiring, however, and unless Texans elect more pro-public education candidates to replace them, things could go very differently next session.

via GIPHY

Ok, I’m ready to vote! So what do I do?

First off, click on the CANDIDATES tab here at Teach the Vote and enter your address to find out who’s running in your area. There you can look at each candidate’s answers to our education policy survey and review incumbents’ voting records. Then check out VoteTexas.org to find your nearest polling place.

If you’re having trouble finding a polling location, the easiest place to look is your home county’s election website. For example, if you live in Dallas, then a Google search for “Dallas county elections” will turn up DallasCountyVotes.org. This is the official website of the Dallas County Elections Department. Most counties will have a similar website that lists polling locations and times.

Times during the first week of early voting can vary by county. Some, such as Dallas County and Travis County, open the polls from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Others, such as Harris County, limit the hours of early voting during the first week, then expand to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the second week.

Also don’t forget to bring your ID. You can see a list of accepted forms of voter identification here. If you are legally registered to vote but don’t have an ID, you can still vote by signing an affidavit the election judges are required to provide for this purpose.

Early voting runs today, October 22, through Friday, November 2. Election Day is November 6. But there’s no need to wait! Head out and vote today, and make sure your friends, family, and colleagues vote as well. The future of our schools depends on it!

Why November is important: It’s the maths, y’all

Politics involves a lot of math.

A candidate needs fifty percent of voters plus one in order to get elected to office. The Texas Legislature meets for 140 days, but can’t pass legislation until 60 of those days have passed – unless acting upon an emergency item declared by the governor.

Here’s another equation for you:

The Texas Senate consists of 31 members and requires a vote of three-fifths of those present and voting to pass most major legislation. That means if everyone is present, a bill needs the support of 19 senators to pass. In the current makeup of the Texas Senate, 20 are Republicans and 11 are Democrats.

This actually is an important bit of math for supporters of public education.

In the past legislative session alone, we’ve seen legislation harmful to public education pass along largely party line votes under the direction of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. This includes voucher bills to strip funding from public schools in order to create taxpayer-funded subsidies for private schools. It also includes payroll deduction bills designed to rob teachers of their influence at the Capitol by making it more difficult to join educator associations such as ATPE.

A recent article by the Texas Tribune put the Senate math in the context of the 2018 general election, and pointed out that the outcomes of a handful of races this November could have some very significant ramifications when it comes to the next legislative session.

Multiple senators who voted for vouchers and against teachers last session are currently up for reelection and facing serious challenges this November. The Texas Tribune highlighted three of the most high-profile races in which sitting senators now find themselves in the hot seat, in large part due to their past anti-public education votes: Sens. Don Huffines (R-Dallas), Konni Burton (R-Colleyville), and Joan Huffman (R-Houston).

If just one of those incumbents lose their race, a single Republican could defy the lieutenant governor and stop a voucher bill in its tracks. If two are defeated, the lieutenant governor won’t have enough votes to force through anti-education bills along party lines as he did last session.

In the latter case, members would be forced to work across party lines – and the balance of power would shift away from the lieutenant governor, giving individual members more freedom to vote in the interests of their constituents, rather than party leaders.

There’s also a twist.

The special runoff election underway this week to fill the Senate District 19 seat previously held by a Democrat has attracted the lieutenant governor’s attention; Lt. Gov. Patrick knows flipping that seat would change the math again. That’s why it’s no surprise to see Patrick loudly campaigning for the pro-voucher Republican candidate running in that San Antonio-area special election that will be decided on Tuesday, Sept. 18:

Also, an unresolved dispute between Gov. Greg Abbott and retiring Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) means the 2019 legislative session will begin with the Senate one seat short. That lowers the magic number for passing bills via one party’s super-majority to only 18.

It’s tempting to look at this all in terms of “Rs” and “Ds,” but that ignores important issues like public education, where there are Republicans who disagree with the lieutenant governor, but either don’t number enough to overcome the magic number or fear the lieutenant governor’s current absolute power. Changing the math changes both.

File it under the list of reasons this upcoming general election is important. Maybe your friends aren’t the type to get hyped up about voting. Maybe they just don’t find elections that exciting. I offer an alternative appeal:

Math!

Now that’s exciting!

Secretary of State reminds Texans to register to vote by Oct. 9

The following is a press release issued on Sept. 7, 2018, by the Texas Secretary of State’s office, reminding Texans about the Oct. 9 deadline to register to vote in the November 2018 general election.


Secretary Pablos Reminds Texans To Register To Vote By October 9th, Plan Their Trip To The Polls

“Prepare yourself, inform yourself, and empower yourself”

AUSTIN – Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos today reminded all eligible Texans to register to vote by October 9th and to make all necessary preparations to be able to cast a ballot in the upcoming November 6 General Election.

Secretary Pablos encouraged all eligible Texas voters to ensure that they:

(1) are registered to vote in their county of residence
(2) are aware of what they need to bring to the polls in order to cast a ballot.

Additionally, Secretary Pablos urged voters to contact their respective county elections offices to become familiar with their ballot, locate their appropriate polling location, and plan their trip to the polls.

With the October 9th voter registration deadline just over a month away, Secretary Pablos issued one last call-to-action by urging Texans to register and take the necessary steps to be prepared to vote.

“Don’t wait until the last minute, make sure you are registered well in advance of the October 9th voter registration deadline so that you cast a ballot in the November General Election,” Secretary Pablos said. “The Texas Secretary of State’s office wants to ensure that all eligible Texans can cast their ballots with confidence this November, and the first step in doing so is to make sure you are registered and ready to make your trip to the polls.”

Eligible Texans who are not already registered to vote may complete and print a voter registration application here, or request an application from their county elections administrator. Once completed,  eligible Texas voters may submit the application to the county voter registrar in their county of residence. Completed voter registration applications must be postmarked by October 9th, 2018 in order to be accepted. Texans may check to see if they are already registered to vote through the Texas Secretary of State’s web site or by visiting www.votetexas.gov.

“Prepare yourself, inform yourself, and empower yourself,” Secretary Pablos said. “As a Texas voter, you can set an example for your fellow Texans by showing your commitment to civic engagement. We will continue working with election officials across the Lone Star State to make sure all eligible Texans have the information and resources they need to register to vote and make their voices heard.”

To avoid longer waiting times on Election Day, the Texas Secretary of State encourages eligible registered voters to vote during the early voting period from Monday, October 22nd to Friday, November 2nd, 2018. During the early voting period, Texas voters can cast a ballot at any location in their county of registration.

Additionally, Secretary Pablos has proclaimed the first Friday of the early voting period (October 26th) to be Student Voting Day in the State of Texas, when all eligible Texas students are encouraged to cast their ballot in their county’s nearest polling location during times that do not conflict with their scholastic obligations.

Secretary Pablos also reminds Texas voters who possess one of the seven approved forms of photo ID that they must present that ID at the polls. Voters who do not possess and cannot reasonably obtain one of the seven forms of approved photo ID may execute a Reasonable Impediment Declaration form (PDF), available to them at each polling location, and provide a supporting form of identification. Additionally, certain voters may qualify for certain exemptions to presenting an acceptable form of photo identification or following the Reasonable Impediment Declaration (PDF)procedure.

The seven forms of approved photo ID are:

With the exception of the U.S. Citizenship Certificate, which does not expire, the acceptable photo ID must be current or, for voters aged 18-69, have expired no more than four years before being presented for voter qualification at the polling place. A voter 70 years of age or older may use a form of acceptable photo ID listed above that has expired for any length of time if the identification is otherwise valid.

If a voter does not possess one of the forms of acceptable photo identification listed above, and the voter cannot reasonably obtain such identification, the voter may fill out a Reasonable Impediment Declaration form (PDF), which will be available at each polling location, and present a copy or original of one of the following supporting forms of identification:

  • a government document that shows the voter’s name and an address, including the voter’s voter registration certificate;
  • a current utility bill;
  • a bank statement;
  • a government check;
  • a paycheck;
  • a certified domestic (from a U.S. state or territory) birth certificate; or
  • a document confirming birth admissible in a court of law which establishes the voter’s identity (which may include a foreign birth document)

The address on an acceptable form of photo identification or a supporting form of identification, if applicable, does not have to match the voter’s address on the list of registered voters.

If a voter meets these requirements and is otherwise eligible to vote, the voter will be able to cast a regular ballot in the election.

Voters with a disability may apply with the county voter registrar for a permanent exemption to presenting an acceptable form of photo identification or following the Reasonable Impediment Declaration procedure at the polls. Voters with a religious objection to being photographed or voters who do not present an acceptable form of photo identification or follow the Reasonable Impediment Declaration procedure at the polls because of certain natural disasters may apply for a temporary exemption to presenting an acceptable form of photo identification or following the Reasonable Impediment Declaration procedure. For more details, voters may contact their county voter registrar.

Voters with questions about how to cast a ballot in upcoming elections can call 1-800-252-VOTE

For Texas voters affected by Hurricane Harvey, click here for additional information and resources.

For more information on voting in Texas, visit www.votetexas.gov

Does Gov. Abbott want to spend more on schools?

Election season is truly magical.

There’s just something about the seething mercury, the colorful proliferation of yard signs, and the specter of an existential showdown that awakens a – dare we call it – miraculous clarity in political combatants seeking votes.

When else can one witness folks who’ve spent the past 20 months fighting in bitter opposition to a particular set of constituents suddenly discover a deep love for the values they hold? The Lord works in mysterious ways.

It’s no surprise that we’re now hearing support for improving the school finance system from unexpected corners. To a certain degree, it’s positive evidence that educators are being heard, and that the powers-that-be realize that there is more to gain by working with the education community than working to dismantle it.

That doesn’t mean that efforts to dismantle it behind the scenes will stop. In politics as in statistics, things tend to revert toward the mean. The governing happens long after the polls close. Nonetheless, election season opens a brief window of opportunity to use our seat at the table to advance the conversation.

Let’s apply this lens to the latest Dallas Morning News opinion column by Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas), with the promising headline, “Texas must boost school funding.” The key passage summarizing Gov. Abbott’s message is as follows:

“We need to pay our best teachers more, reward teachers and districts for student growth, prioritize spending in the classroom and reduce the burden of skyrocketing property taxes. I’ll add up front that I believe the state will have to provide more funding.”

That last line seems to offer an acknowledgment of what we in the education committee have known for some time, but which many in the Capitol have resisted mightily.

The problem, of course, is that many of the people who have opposed investing more state dollars in public education have falsely argued that the state is already increasing education spending year over year. They point to raw dollars going back to a low-water point in 2006 in order to obscure the reality of the deliberate and steady erosion of state support for local schools. Troublingly, Gov. Abbott takes this very tack in writing that “overall education spending in Texas has increased by more than 50 percent since 2006, and the state is contributing 29 percent more education funding per student in that time period.”

Let’s look at that claim.

The numbers in the latter half of that statement come from a Texas Education Agency (TEA) presentation before the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. The headline of the slide below seems to confirm the governor’s assertion, but look at the orange line indicating funding adjusted for inflation. It clearly shows that in terms of purchasing power, total per-student funding has risen only slightly since 2006, and is roughly equal to per-student funding in 2008. (Click the image to view a larger version.)

Source: Texas Education Agency

What’s perhaps more telling is the blue bar indicating how much funding the state has contributed. I’ve added the red brackets and red horizontal line to make the minute changes easier to see. You can tell that the raw dollar amount the state has contributed has actually decreased slightly since 2008 – and that’s not even adjusted for inflation.

To get to the inflation-adjusted number, we look at the Legislative Budget Board’s (LBB) Fiscal Size-up for the 2016-2017 biennium. In the chart below, we can see how spending from local property tax revenue (circled in green) has increased, while state aid (circled in blue) has changed little from 2008 levels. In total constant dollars adjusted for inflation (near the red arrow), we see that total funding has in fact decreased.

Source: Legislative Budget Board

The governor also wrongly suggests that funding is not making it into classrooms. According to the TEA’s 2016-17 Pocket Edition statistics, districts only spend an average of 3.1 percent on administrative costs.

To his credit, the governor advocates that increases in funding should go to teachers. No disagreement there. His idea is to implement a system in which top-performing teachers can earn significantly higher pay by teaching in areas facing the most need – similar to the “ACE” system tested in Dallas ISD. It’s a conversation that’s worth having, provided that educators are involved in the process and that the system doesn’t rely primarily on student test results to identify those “top-performing” teachers.

Governor Abbott also suggests moving away from a per-pupil funding model and, implicitly, toward a more outcomes-based approach. This is problematic for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is identifying which metrics with which to measure student performance and the threat of schools faced with the most significant socioeconomic challenges receiving even less support.

Finally, the governor writes that school finance reform must be accompanied by reforms in property taxes. It’s true the two are inextricably intertwined.

Increasing the state’s share of public education funding is the surest way to provide relief in property taxes. The governor proposes forcing taxing entities to lower their rates as appraisals go up, with the state presumably stepping in to make school districts whole. That’s a lot to presume, especially to do so in perpetuity.

Districts could hardly be blamed for wanting to see the legislature commit money up front before committing to voluntarily lower their tax rates – and it will take a sizable appropriation to shift the burden back toward the state in a way that will be meaningful to local property owners. School board members are politicians too, and they don’t want to be blamed for high taxes any more than their counterparts in Austin.

So what does it all mean? Does the governor’s column signify a dramatic reversal of his stance on public education, and school finance in particular? Does it mean he’s ready to stop attacking educators through anti-teacher payroll deduction bills and focus on improving teacher pay instead?

At a minimum, the governor is now talking about public education as an important priority, and that’s a good thing. The onus is on us to engage respectfully yet forcefully, and to shape the conversation, to the extent we can, by correcting inaccuracies and providing meaningful input. At best, we hope the governor will listen to educators and incorporate our feedback, even after the elections are over.

Of course, just as election season begins in the frantic furnace of summer, it ends in darkness on a winter night. When the legislature returns in January, we’ll all be faced with cold reality.

From The Texas Tribune: Analysis: School districts are getting report cards. They shouldn’t be the only ones.

Analysis: School districts are getting report cards. They shouldn’t be the only ones.” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

A “Come and Take It” flag depicting an apple instead of the traditional cannon at the Save Our Schools rally at the Texas Capitol on March 12, 2011. Photo by Bob Daemmrich.

It’s time to start grading the papers of the people elected to run the state of Texas, to translate voters’ thoughts and feelings about the way things are going into the job reviews that will be delivered in this year’s general election.

It’s the seasonal cycle of this electoral democracy. We elect them. They do stuff. We decide whether to keep or replace them.

Elected officials adore this sort of judgement when it’s directed at others.

Later today, for instance, the state will issue its inaugural set of A-F grades for more than 1,000 public school districts. That has agitated a lot of Texas educators; when the grades are out, odds are good that it will agitate — in ways both negative and positive — parents, business people and taxpayers. If the politicos are lucky, it will divert angst over public education in Texas away from the folks who’ll be on the November ballot.

Accountability is an admirable thing in politics. It can show citizens where responsibility lies, the better to direct their blame and, more to the point, where to repair or replace policies that don’t work.

It can also diffuse responsibility. When today’s school grades come out, keep an eye on who’s taking the heat and who’s getting the credit. Ask yourself, as it unrolls, whether the right people are getting the right kind of attention.

This is supposed to be a way for the government ministers in Austin and the public across the state to see what results they’re getting for their money. It’s controversial, to say the least. Educators contend the grading system is both too general — not taking the complexity of any given school district into account — and too reliant on standardized tests and other inappropriate yardsticks that don’t give accurate readings of educational progress. Many are not crazy about grades of any kind, but they’re irked that these grades, in their view, will give voters and policymakers false readings about school districts’ performance.

But for a Legislature that can’t muster a consensus for what public schools should do and what they should cost, it’s a way to outsource the blame from the pink building to local “educrats.”

It’s a pre-election test of whether voters trust politicians more than teachers.

Education isn’t the only forum for this sort of deflection. The telling sign is when the people at the top try to separate themselves from the people who work for them, a strategy that allows them to make policy and take credit for passing laws while also blaming someone else when the execution of those instructions falls short.

Maybe the blame should crawl up the management ladder; they’d rather you didn’t make the connection.

Rats, mold and other filth in state buildings? The budgeteers at the Capitol have been skimping on building maintenance and upkeep for years. Multi-billion-dollar contracting troubles at the Health and Human Services Commission? That sort of thing happens if you put all those disparate agencies into one pot and then wander off, forgetting the second part of the business maxim: “Put all your eggs in one basket — and then watch that basket very carefully.”

A federal “zero tolerance” immigration policy that splits adults and children at the border and then cannot reconnect them — whether they’re staying here or being sent home? That is, in fact, a bureaucratic nightmare. But it’s a product of bad design, of putting a policy in place before figuring out how it’s going to work. The blame for that kind of empty-headed governance belongs at or near the top of the organization chart. Roughly 500 of those kids are still unattached to the adults with whom they entered the country. That terrible foul-up took place at the border, but the credit and blame really belong to the high officials who got things rolling.

This is going to be a hard day for some school superintendents and school boards and a great day for others. In both situations, some of them deserve it. Some of them don’t. Examine the results. Make your own judgements. And when you pass out cheers and jeers, think of the people who are responsible for education policy who aren’t on today’s report cards.

They’ll be on your election ballot a few weeks from now.

 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/08/15/analysis-texas-school-report-card-election-2018/.

 

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Summer Activism: How can I continue to fight for our classrooms?

Congratulations, you made it to summer!

The students are gone, but every teacher knows the work never really stops, even when the temperatures soar. As it turns out, this summer is already shaping up to be a pretty active one when it comes to shaping public education policies that could make a big impact on classrooms next fall.

In fact, keeping on top of what’s happening this summer is critical to ensuring lawmakers start off on the right foot when they return to Austin in January to start making laws that affect your students, classrooms and profession. To that end, many ATPE members have asked what educators can do to stay on top of these important conversations this summer.

The good news is there’s plenty to do, and much of it can be done with minimal disruption to your summer schedule! Here’s a list of ways to keep engaged:

Be Social

Keeping up on your social media feeds is the best way to stay up to date on what conversations are going down where. Your ATPE governmental relations staff is busy going to important meetings where the future of public education is being discussed, and we’re posting what’s being talked about on Twitter. Good handles to follow are @OfficialATPE, @TeachTheVote, @ATPE_JenniferC, @ATPE_MontyE, @ATPE_KateK and yours truly, @MarkWigginsTX. Also check for updates on ATPE’s Facebook page. The more follows, likes and shares we get, the more clout we’ll have when we start mobilizing members during the legislative session.

Speak Up

There are dozens of meetings scheduled this summer where members of the public are allowed to testify about public education issues, letting lawmakers know where they stand. Next month, a special Senate committee is meeting to talk about school safety, and the House Public Education Committee is holding hearings on school safety and mental health next week. The Texas Commission on Public School Finance is scheduled to meet July 10 to discuss ways to fix the school finance system. The State Board of Education (SBOE) just wrapped up their June meeting, but they’ll be back in September. If you want to know more about how to testify, just call or e-mail your ATPE governmental relations department; but you don’t have to travel to Austin to be heard. Reaching out to the people elected to represent you via letters, email, and phone calls can be just as effective. You can often them just down the street at their local district offices during this time year as well, if you want to talk to them face to face without ever leaving home.

Volunteer

The most important way to make sure we secure adequate funding, resources and respect for the teaching profession is by electing pro-public education candidates to office. You can find out who supports public education by checking out our Candidates page. The November 6 election is the biggest and last opportunity between now and the next legislative session to do that. Even though July and August are typically slow months for political campaigns, those campaigns are always looking for people to block walk, make phone calls and put up signs. Volunteering during the dog days is also a great way to get to know candidates and staff on a personal level, since they’re usually very grateful for the help!

Donate

Unfortunately, money still matters in the world of politics. Campaigns rely on it and so do political action committees (PACs). People are grateful for donations any time, and summer is no exception. For most educators, pooling your money with other donors through a PAC offers you an opportunity to get the best bang for the buck. For example, during the primaries, 72 percent of the candidates who received a donation form the ATPE-PAC went on to win their election. In the primary runoffs that number jumped to 80 percent.

Preach the Word

Summer is a time for barbecues, grilling out and social gatherings. We’ve all been general brought up to avoid talking politics, but the future of our schools is something that should rise above partisanship. Are your friends also stressed about paying too much in property taxes? Do they know that fixing the school finance system by ensuring the state pays its fair share of the burden would go a long way in fixing that? What about testing — are other parents just as fed up with the overemphasis on STAAR? Let them know the hard work you and ATPE are doing to advocate for solutions to these problems and let them know about Teach the Vote! We created the site for everyone who cares about the future of public education because we need everyone’s help to make sure we get  the right people in office to fix these and many other issues, such as teacher health care and compensation.

We’re gearing up for a scorcher, but educators can’t afford to spend too much time in the shade. Every little bit helps us to avoid getting burned next session!

Great night for public education in primary runoffs

The votes are in – and pro-public education candidates had a great night across Texas!

Many Texas educators spent the past two months wearing red, volunteering, making phone calls, working the polls, and investing their own personal resources helping these campaigns. Their hard work paid off in spades Tuesday night. In the final tally, 80% of the runoff candidates backed by ATPE-PAC or ATPE Direct won their elections by a whopping average of 22.5 percentage points. Conversely, candidates who were financed by anti-public education pressure groups lost all but a single race.

Statewide turnout figures for the Republican runoffs isn’t available, and statewide turnout in the Democratic runoff was just 2.8 percent. This means that every vote was immensely important, and educators who performed their civic duty by voting in the runoffs likely made the key difference in many of these races.

Retiring Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), who championed public education legislation in the Texas House, was also active in backing candidates who vowed to stand up for public schools. As the numbers pointed to victory for public education Tuesday night, Speaker Straus issued a statement congratulating the candidates who won their runoffs.

“Once again, Republican primary voters have shown overwhelming support for responsible candidates who will put their communities first and take a serious approach to the state’s challenges,” said Straus. “The results in these runoffs and in the March primaries clearly demonstrate that Republican voters want constructive and pragmatic leadership for our fast-growing state.”

The results from runoff in elections in the Texas House are as follows:

House District 4 (R)
Keith Bell: 59%
Stuart Spitzer: 41%

House District 8 (R)
Cody Harris: 57%
Thomas McNutt: 43%

House District 13 (R)
Ben Leman: 57%
Jill Wolfskill: 43%

House District 37 (D)
Alex Dominguez: 57%
Rep. Rene Oliveira: 43%

House District 45 (D)
Erin Zwiener: 51%
Rebecca Bell-Metereau: 49%

House District 46 (D)
Sheryl Cole: 51%
Jose “Chito” Vela: 49%

House District 47 (D)
Vikki Goodwin: 58%
Elaina Fowler: 42%

House District 54 (R)
Brad Buckley: 58%
Rep. Scott Cosper: 42%

House District 62 (R)
Reggie Smith: 71%
Brent Lawson: 29%

House District 64 (D)
Andrew Morris: 54%
Mat Pruneda: 46%

House District 107 (R)
Deanna Maria Metzger: 56%
Joe Ruzicka: 44%

House District 109 (D)
Carl Sherman: 64%
Deshaundra Lockhart Jones: 36%

House District 121 (R)
Steve Allison: 58%
Matt Beebe: 42%

House District 133 (D)
Marty Schexnayder: 56%
Sandra G. Moore: 44%

Elsewhere, Rita Lucido defeated Fran Watson by 16 percentage points to become the Democratic nominee and challenge state Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) in Senate District 17. Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez defeated Mark White, a Houston businessman and the son of the late former Gov. Mark White, in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Thank you to everyone who volunteered, contributed, and showed up to vote in these important elections! Educators have gone to great lengths this election season to promote a culture of voting in school districts across Texas, and the work has only just begun. Campaigns will now turn toward the November 6 General Election, when Texas voters will make their final decisions as to who will represent them at the state and federal levels.