Tag Archives: Parent PAC

From The Texas Tribune: Allegations of Fearmongering in Education Board Runoff

by Kiah Collier, The Texas Tribune
May 17, 2016

Mary Lou Bruner and Keven Ellis are hoping to represent District 9 on the State Board of Education. Northeast Texas voters will pick between the two Republicans in a May 24 runoff election. Whoever wins the nomination will face Democrat Amanda Rudolph in November.

Mary Lou Bruner and Keven Ellis are hoping to represent District 9 on the State Board of Education. Northeast Texas voters will pick between the two Republicans in a May 24 runoff election. Whoever wins the nomination will face Democrat Amanda Rudolph in November.

CANTON — Today’s schoolchildren favor socialism over the free market. Common Core educational standards — banned in Texas — have crept into the classroom. And Texas schools should “teach the knowledge and skills that made the United States the leader of the world,” including cursive, phonics and multiplication tables.

State Board of Education hopeful Mary Lou Bruner’s fear-inducing, back-to-basics talking points have not changed much during a GOP runoff campaign that began after she nearly won a three-way primary to represent northeast Texas on the panel that sets state curriculum and adopts textbooks.

Neither, though, have Keven Ellis’.

Despite finishing a distant second to Bruner in the March 1 primary, when GOP voters demonstrated a strong preference for far-right candidates, Ellis has deliberately stuck to his policy-focused message: He wants to support educators by working with them rather than against them, narrow a curriculum he describes as “a mile wide and an inch deep” and overhaul the current standardized testing regime. That is, when he’s not urging voters to ignore Bruner’s message of alarm.

“You will hear her say that children belong to the parents and not the government — and of course they do — but she has also said that if your children go to school saying things like ‘abortion is wrong’ and they don’t believe in global warming, they could get a visit from the school administrator” and put themselves at risk of being taken away by Child Protective Services, Ellis said earlier this month during a sparsely attended GOP runoff forum in the East Texas town of Canton.

Ellis, a 45-year-old Lufkin chiropractor, who has served for three years on the local school board and is now its president, added that the Texas Legislature has already banned Common Core, and the state curriculum still includes cursive, phonics and multiplication tables.

“It’s all about inciting fear,” he said. “Please see through this.”  

Bruner, a conservative activist who worked in East Texas schools for 36 years as a teacher, counselor and educational diagnostician before retiring in 2009, said there’s plenty of reasons to be afraid of “elites in the federal government that are trying to give us a one-size-fits-all, top-down education system.”

“If that is fearmongering, I wish people had spoken out harder and heavier in Germany before Hitler took over,” she said. “We should be scared when they want to take away from us what our government was built upon and totally revamp it and make it like the socialist and communist countries of the world.”

The 69-year-old from Mineola, who won 48 percent of the March primary vote to Ellis’ 31 percent, also bashed reporters for fixating on her conspiracy theory-laden Facebook posts during the primary campaign. Now mostly hidden from public view, they contended that President Obama worked as a gay prostitute in his youth to pay for a drug habit and that the Democratic Party was behind President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

“They always want to smear my name and start with that before they ask me what I want to do on the State Board of Education,” she said, adding in an interview that “I’m really sick and tired of the way they’ve treated me.”

The GOP forum in Canton was one of just a handful of events during the nearly three-month runoff campaign where both candidates were present. Several local conservative groups, which have overwhelmingly backed Bruner, have not invited Ellis to meet with them or speak at their events, according to Ellis and local activists. One of the groups, though, is currently reconsidering its endorsement of Bruner after she made several inaccurate statements in a speech to East Texas superintendents. 

“That is counter to what we should be about,” said Dwayne “Doc” Collins, a Canton activist who founded five local Tea Party groups and organized the forum. The 70-year-old veterinarian said he’s “going to have to break with a lot of my fellow Tea Partiers” to support Ellis.

Ellis “has a lot of positive things he could bring to the state school board,” said Collins, who has known Bruner for years. “He would be quite a bit more cooperative … less confrontational.”

If that is fear-mongering, I wish people had spoken out harder and heavier in Germany before Hitler took over.— Mary Lou Bruner, Republican candidate for State Board of Education


But many who attended the forum said it was the first time they had even heard of Ellis or knew there was another candidate in the race besides Bruner. Several said they were leaning toward Bruner after hearing from both candidates because she spoke to their concerns — namely Common Core — and demonstrated conviction.

“She was boisterous. She didn’t back down,” said Patrick Wilson, a retiree who now works as a substitute teacher in Canton.

“She’s my gal,” Jon Smith, another local retiree, told The Texas Tribune at the forum. “She wants to get rid of the Common Core that’s starting.”

Almost every other state has adopted Common Core, the K-12 educational standards championed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Officers — and incentivized when the Obama administration tied their adoption to federal grant eligibility. But Texas’ GOP leaders have rejected the standards for a perceived liberal bias, and the Legislature passed a bill in 2013 banning their adoption or use.

Ellis says he is also opposed to Common Core but described it in an interview as a “non-issue” despite the fact that it’s clearly a concern among his would-be constituents.

Meanwhile, he’s hoping Bruner’s “outlandish comments” will help his cause.

Inaccurate statistics Bruner cited earlier this month during a speech to Region 7 superintendents — including the percentage of students enrolled in special education and the number of substitute teachers working in Lufkin schools — have gotten her in hot water with the influential East Texas Tea Party group Grassroots America — We the People, which endorsed Bruner in the primary.

The Smith County-based group has asked her to “produce her sources” and is “reconsidering” its endorsement, Executive Director JoAnn Fleming said in a text message. The group has also said it doesn’t agree with Bruner’s Facebook posts.

While some of the figures cited in the speech, captured in a cellphone video and circulated online in recent weeks, may have been wrong, Bruner said, “Everything I said is basically true,” including that schools are struggling with teacher shortages and so have to use substitutes.  

“Let me tell you what, the superintendents are not all Republicans,” Bruner said. “Many of them are Democrats, and they have an agenda.”

Bruner confirmed she has not received any endorsements from Texas superintendents. More than 70 of them have endorsed Ellis in the race, as well as statewide teacher groups and the Texas Parent PAC. Ellis also has received endorsements from state Rep. Trent Ashby of Lufkin and outgoing House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen, both of whom are key members of the more moderate bloc of Republicans in the Texas House aligned with Speaker Joe Straus

Whoever prevails in next week’s runoff will face Democrat Amanda Rudolph in the November general election. Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said he doesn’t expect Bruner’s comments to hurt her much.

Ultraconservative GOP runoff voters are “going to focus on the bigger picture of going back to basics — having schools that reflect their values and looking to keep Common Core out of Texas,” Jones said. “Perhaps they wouldn’t say that Obama was a former prostitute financing his drug habit, but they do not have a favorable opinion of President Obama and therefore aren’t going to be turned off by that statement.”


Disclosure: Rice University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/05/17/sboe-race-candidates-stick-their-message/.

Influential parent group announces support for pro-public education candidates

Texas Parent PAC is a bipartisan political action committee supporting high quality public education. Each election cycle, the group endorses and supports candidates whose campaign platforms match the values embraced by Parent PAC, including using public tax dollars only to fund public schools, local control, sufficient and equitable funding of schools, and accountability.

Parent PAC’s endorsement process takes several months and includes interviews of the candidates. Representatives of the education community, including ATPE staff members, often participate in the interview process to help determine the likelihood that candidates will support public education if elected. The group’s endorsements are usually split between both Republican and Democratic candidates; however, there are more Republican candidates endorsed by Parent PAC this year simply because of the high number of open seats in which a Republican candidate has held the office in the past and the demographics of the district tend to favor Republican candidates.

This year, Parent PAC has endorsed two candidates seeking open seats in the Texas Senate: retired general Red Brown (R) in Senate District 1 and current state representative Susan King (R) in Senate District 24.

In Texas House races, Parent PAC has endorsed the following candidates:

Since its inception, Texas Parent PAC has offered proof that educator groups aren’t the only ones interested in knowing where candidates stand on education issues.

ATPE Executive Director Gary G. Godsey

Gary Godsey

“Teachers, administrators, and other school employees obviously care about the candidates’ views on education,” said ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey. “But there are many other voters, such as parents and community leaders, who also know that education needs to be a top priority. It’s important to have tools that will help inform those voters who really want to elect legislators who support our public schools.” ATPE has worked to provide those types of voter education tools through our advocacy website, TeachtheVote.org, and Parent PAC provides yet another tool through its endorsement process.

The candidate profiles that ATPE compiles for Teach the Vote include information about major endorsements that candidates have received, where applicable. Since ATPE does not endorse candidates, we pay attention to which candidates are receiving endorsements from outside groups that are following public education issues very closely. For many years now, we have provided information on candidates endorsed by Parent PAC, because we believe it is crucial information for voters who care about public education to have and consider. The values that guide Parent PAC in choosing their candidates—from protecting schools against privatization to ensuring that all students have access to a quality education—mirror the positions that ATPE members consistently adopt as part of our own legislative program.

Cory Colby

Cory Colby

“The education community values the recommendations of Parent PAC, because we know they have carefully vetted the candidates before making their endorsements,” said ATPE State President Cory Colby. “We must ensure that public schools are strongly supported with adequate funding and preserve local control by our communities. The legislature can help our state secure a brighter economic future and remain a place where businesses want to come to find a well-trained workforce, but only if voters elect candidates who support our public education system. We’re glad to have the assistance of Parent PAC in helping voters learn more about where the candidates stand.”

A message to educators from Friends of Texas Public Schools

Open Letter to the Terrific Teachers of Texas
Message from Friends of Texas Public Schools Founders, Scott and Leslie Milder

MildersCongratulations on your amazing success on behalf of your students as evidenced by Texas students achieving the highest graduation rates in America! You are doing the Lord’s work and Texans are grateful for your work and dedication. Click here to read more about graduation rates.

We have a critical calendar year ahead of us for the future of public education in Texas. The Texas Legislature has been working against you and your schools for decades and will continue to do what it can to undermine your ability to do your jobs in the classroom. While some of our elected representatives and senators are friendly toward public education, many are not. Their campaign contributors want vouchers and charters so they can profit from the billions invested annually in our public schools. They also want to attack your benefits such as TRS and your health insurance. That’s the simple and ugly truth.

Although your vote alone may not have great influence, if combined with your 600,000+ peers across Texas, public school educators would own the outcome of virtually any election. Why is this important to you? Currently, the education profession has very low voter turnout, which means elected officials do not listen to educators. They listen to those who vote and those who contribute. While educators are not known for their wealth and ability to contribute, they can show up at the polls in great numbers and elect education-friendly candidates! That is what we need to do next month.

Remember that politics is local and is more complicated than red vs. blue. Now, when you do go vote you’ll want your vote to count. As a result of gerrymandering, most state elections (90%) are decided in the primaries, which are in February and March of this year. Please consider this assignment. Determine the following: (1) Do I reside in a Texas House or Senate District that routinely elects a Republican or Democratic candidate? (2) Which candidate in that party is the most helpful to public education?

Let’s send a message to Austin that public education is important by voting early-on the first day of early voting, Tuesday, February 16. We urge you to vote in the primary election that typically determines the Texas Senate or House member where you reside.

The winners of the Democratic primary and the winners of the Republican primary face off against each other in the November general election. In many parts of Texas, most Democrats don’t stand a chance in the general election because Texans are largely Republican voters. Therefore, whoever wins the Republic Primary in March is likely to win the general election in November.

For those of you inclined to vote in the Democratic primary to support your presidential candidate of choice, please know your vote would be less meaningful than if you vote in the Republican Primary for the reasons noted in the previous paragraphs. Most elections in Texas are decided in the Republican Primary. You’ll be able to vote for the Democrat or Republican presidential candidate in the November general election.

What’s the takeaway of this message? Register to vote, VOTE, and vote in the Republican Primary during early voting February 16-26, or on the Primary Election Day, March 1. Need help determining who are the most education-friendly candidates? We always check in on who the Texas Parent PAC has endorsed. They will post their slate of candidates online at www.txparentpac.com.

Wondering if your voter registration is current? You can check by visiting Am I Registered to Vote. You may also register to vote at this same link. The last date to register to vote is Monday, February 1, 2016.

God bless you for choosing to serve in the public schools of Texas!

–Scott and Leslie

P.S. If you are a school principal or superintendent, we encourage you to make this message available to your teachers and staff. Download a PDF copy here

Shuffling the legislative deck: An update on special elections in Texas

With the start of the legislative session merely days away, many Texans still don’t know who will represent them in the 84th Legislature. A special election was held Jan. 6 to fill vacancies in three legislative districts – Senate District 26, House District 17, and House District 123. However, since no candidate earned enough votes to win outright, all three of those races are headed to an eventual runoff on a date yet to be determined by Gov. Rick Perry. Meanwhile, yet another special election is slated for next Tuesday, Jan. 13, for a vacancy in House District 13. A shuffling of legislators seeking other opportunities following the November 2014 general election has necessitated the sudden string of special elections.

In HD 17, Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt (R-Lexington) is stepping down in order to become general counsel at the Texas Department of Agriculture, a post appointed by the new commissioner of agriculture, Sid Miller, who was elected in November. There were five candidates on the HD 17 ballot Tuesday, but Republicans John Cyrier and Brent Golemon earned a spot in the runoff, garnering 46 and 25 percent of the votes, respectively. Cyrier has already received a number of notable endorsements, including one from the pro-public education group Texas Parent PAC.

The HD 123 vacancy is the result of Rep. Mike Villarreal’s (D-San Antonio) recent decision to resign and run for mayor of San Antonio later this year. Six candidates filed to run in Tuesday’s HD 123 special election; the two advancing to the runoff include Democrat Diego Bernal, who almost avoided a runoff with 47 percent of Tuesday’s vote. Bernal has also been endorsed by Texas Parent PAC. The second-place finisher was Republican Nunzio Previtera, who received 21 percent of the vote.

After running unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2014, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) has also decided to throw her hat in the race for mayor of San Antonio, creating a vacancy in SD 26 with her resignation from the Senate. There were five candidates on Tuesday’s SD 26 ballot, and not surprisingly, the top vote-getters were two sitting state representatives, who are also Democrats. Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, who currently represents HD 116, earned 43 percent of the vote, while Rep. Jose Mendendez of HD 124 received a quarter of the votes. Ultimately, the governor will be forced to call yet another special election to fill a vacancy left in the Texas House by either Martinez Fischer or Menendez, depending on the outcome of the HD 123 runoff, which is likely to take place in February.

Next week’s special election in HD 13 will determine a successor for former Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham). Kolkhorst won a special election in December to become a state senator, succeeding former senator Glenn Hegar. Hegar resigned his SD 18 seat after being elected Texas comptroller in November. There are four candidates vying for the HD 13 seat next Tuesday: Becky BergerCarolyn Cerny BilskiLeighton Schubert, and Cecil Webster, Sr. Bilski, currently serving as a county judge, has received the endorsement of Texas Parent PAC.

View profiles of the candidates on Teach the Vote, and stay tuned to our blog for announcements about runoff and future election dates.

From The Texas Tribune: Education Reform Group Mobilizes for 2014 Elections

An education advocacy group that became a lobbying powerhouse during the 2013 legislative session with the backing of Texas tort reform heavyweights is now turning its sights to the upcoming election cycle.

Texans for Education Reform, whose legislative package included measures to encourage the growth of online education and charter schools, has formed a political action committee, according to filings with the state ethics commission.

The new committee will allow the group, which spent at least $645,000 on a team of 16 lobbyists during its first legislative session, to put some of its resources toward political candidates.

“We advocate legislation that will transform our schools through proven, innovative strategies and provide parents with flexibility and choice,” spokeswoman Sherry Sylvester wrote in a statement emailed to The Texas Tribune. “TER PAC will provide us with another tool, in the political realm, to draw attention to our agenda and help achieve that goal.”

Sylvester declined to provide additional information about the group’s political objectives, noting that further details would be available when the Texas Ethics Commission releases campaign finance reports later this month.

TER PAC’s treasurer is listed as Doug Foshee, who is the former CEO of El Paso Corporation, which was among the largest producers of natural gas in North America until another energy company acquired it in 2011. Foshee is also a trustee of the Houston-based KIPP charter school network.

He is one of many Texas political and business leaders who sit on the group’s board, including homebuilder and tort reform champion Dick Weekley, Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC chairman Dick Trabulsi, former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and former Senate Education Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, a Plano Republican who stepped down in 2011. El Paso businessman Woody Hunt and hedge fund manager Salem Abraham, who is a longtime member of the Canadian Independent School District’s board, are also among its supporters.

Texans for Education Reform’s emergence marked a change in the state’s education advocacy landscape, which has traditionally been dominated by professional associations aligned with educators, administrators and school boards. Its efforts were coupled with those of another newcomer, Texans Deserve Great Schools, a nonprofit coalition that includes the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which has invested millions in Houston and Louisiana charter schools, and the San Antonio-based Brackenridge Foundation, which is part of a $30 million campaign to bring more charters to the city.

Speaking with the Tribune in May, TER adviser Anthony Holm said the group had formed to support new solutions for the state’s public schools, whose progress, he said, had been obstructed by existing advocacy organizations.

“It took me six to eight weeks to realize that most of the other interest groups in this space weren’t advancing agendas; they were restricting bills,” Holm said. “It’s much more difficult to advance affirmative legislation or to come up with solutions.”

TER’s official entry to the political arena sets the stage for a further standoff over education policy that became known as the “battle of the billionaires” among some lawmakers during the 2013 legislative session. In the fight to pass charter school and virtual education legislation, TER was often at odds with Raise Your Hand Texas, another education advocacy group with considerable financial resources.

Founded in 2006 by San Antonio grocery mogul Charles Butt to combat private school vouchers, Raise Your Hand has since become a powerful lobbying force at the Capitol. The organization itself does not make campaign contributions, but Butt is a top political donor in the state who has given substantial sums to both Republicans and Democrats, as well as to the Parent PAC, a public schools-oriented political action committee.

While TER and Raise Your Hand each supported the charter school and virtual education bills that eventually passed during the last legislative session, in both cases, Raise Your Hand successfully pushed versions that significantly limited the reach of initial proposals backed by TER.

A spokesman for Raise Your Hand Texas declined to comment for this story.