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“School choice” in the spotlight as presidential election approaches

The 2020 general election is rapidly approaching, with early voting slated to begin in Texas just over six weeks from now on October 13. Now that the presidential slate of candidates has been finalized, the focus is shifting to the candidates’ views on particular issues, including some related to education. One education-related issue, in particular, is being mentioned frequently.

President Donald Trump said Sunday, Aug. 23, he will make “school choice” a top priority if he is reelected for four more years in the White House. The Trump campaign followed up the next day with a 49-point bullet list that broadly outlines things the president hopes to do if reelected. The education section states, “Provide school choice to every child in America.” During the Republican National Convention taking place this week, First Lady Melania Trump also used her Tuesday night speech to highlight the president’s commitment to “fight for school choice to give parents the option to have their school flourish.”

While “choice” is an enticing word, and there are choices of varying educational settings that exist within the public school system, the phrase “school choice” has been used by private school proponents to market the defunding and privatization of public schools. Whether described as “school choice” or with more specific verbiage, the goal has been diverting public taxpayer dollars to private and for-profit entities through vouchers, tax credits, school choice “scholarships,” education savings accounts, and other initiatives. All of these proposals are designed to deny public schools the funding they desperately need to provide quality instruction to all students and transfer it instead to subsidize private entities that are not subject to state accountability standards, taxpayers, or voters. For many years, ATPE members have included a position in our Legislative Program expressing our association’s opposition to private school vouchers or “choice” initiatives. Currently, the ATPE Legislative Program most recently approved by our House of Delegates in July states, “ATPE opposes any program or initiative, tuition tax credit or voucher system that would direct public funds to private, home or for-profit virtual schools.”

This is not the first time President Trump has expressed support for privatization. “We’re fighting for school choice, which really is the civil rights of all time in this country,” the president said in a June 2020 speech about police reform and national protests over the killing of unarmed African-Americans. That same month, Trump accused schools of “extreme indoctrination” of children.

President Trump is also not the first to attempt to market private school vouchers by invoking the Civil Rights movement, despite the fact that vouchers originated as an attempt to avoid desegregation in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-Texas) made the same civil rights argument for school choice in the 2017 legislative session and blocked attempts at providing needed resources for public schools by tying their funding to a school voucher bill. It was the push for privatization and the failure to address school funding in 2017 that led educators to dominate the 2018 midterm elections, which temporarily halted the push for vouchers in Texas and paved the way for the 2019 school finance legislation, House Bill 3.

While the president may be showing a renewed emphasis on privatization, it is not a new issue for his administration. Trump appointed wealthy GOP megadonor and privatization activist Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education during his first year in office. DeVos faced criticism for her promotion of privatization in Michigan that resulted in a dysfunctional school system and the proliferation of low-quality charter schools. She has used her federal cabinet post to continue to push privatization, including using COVID-19 relief funds as an opportunity to promote private school voucher programs and to force public schools to spend an unprecedented amount of money on private school services.

As reported in in the Austin American-Statesman last month, Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden’s campaign has described his position on “school choice” as follows:

“Joe Biden opposes the Trump/DeVos conception of ‘school choice,’ which is private school vouchers that would destroy our public schools. He’s also against for-profit and low-performing charter schools, and believes in holding all charter schools accountable. He does not oppose districts letting parents choose to send their children to public magnet schools, high-performing public charters or traditional public schools.”

While ATPE does not endorse candidates, we encourage voters to learn more about their candidates’ views on public school funding and private school vouchers or “choice” programs. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and with the 2021 legislative session on the horizon, there have already been calls for expanding privatization initiatives right here in Texas. On Teach the Vote, we profile all candidates for the Texas Legislature and invite them to participate in ATPE’s candidate survey, which includes the following question:

“Would you vote to create any type of voucher, tax credit, scholarship, education savings account, or other program aimed at paying for students, including any subpopulation of students, to attend non-public K-12 schools, such as private or home schools?”

We also track incumbent legislators’ voting records, which have included votes on privatization bills in many prior legislative sessions. Use the search tool here on Teach the Vote to research your candidates’ views on private school vouchers and other education issues ahead of the November 3 election.

Texas election roundup: Postmaster General pauses disruption

The U.S. Postal Service warned Texas officials in July that it may be unable to deliver some mail-in ballots on time in order to meet the deadlines for them to be counted in the November 2020 presidential election. If nothing changes, the consequences for the roughly 7% of Texans who typically vote by mail in a presidential contest could be having their votes go uncounted.

This admission came after U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a megadonor President Donald Trump appointed to run the post office in May, began making changes that have resulted in mail delays around the country. At the same time, President Trump announced he would oppose funding for the USPS in order to prevent the mail service from being able to process mail-in ballots for the presidential election.

Under pressure from 20 states that have filed lawsuits against the USPS over the delays, DeJoy announced this week he would pause those changes for the rest of the year. DeJoy is scheduled to testify Friday before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

This week began convention season on the campaign trail, with Democrats holding a virtual convention to formally nominate Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the 2020 Democratic ticket. The return to schools was high on the list of topics discussed at the Democratic National Convention, with Biden’s wife Dr. Jill Biden delivering a speech from inside a classroom at the high school were she once taught. The Republican National Convention will begin next week in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Republicans will formally nominate Donald Trump for reelection.

In Texas, Democratic candidates won a legal battle to keep Green Party candidates off the statewide November ballot. The lawsuit accused the candidates of being ineligible because they failed to pay the required filing fees. The Green Party has argued those filing fees are unconstitutional. Third-party candidates in Texas rarely exceed single digits in statewide elections, but they could win enough votes to shift the outcome of a close race between a Democrat and Republican.

A new Texas poll conducted by YouGov and Rice University in August shows Trump leading Biden by 5% among likely voters. The number is higher than most recent Texas polls that have shown a close race within the margin of error. The same poll shows U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) leading Democratic challenger MJ Hegar by 6%.

Texas election roundup: Registration deadline approaching!

It’s hard to imagine, but we are quickly approaching another important election in Texas! The primary runoff elections that were postponed to July 14 from their original May 26 date are almost upon us. In fact, Monday, June 15, 2020, is the last day to register to vote before this election.

Not sure if you are registered to vote? Check your status online using this handy resource provided by the Texas Secretary of State. It’s a great habit to get into to take two minutes to make sure your voter address and registration status are correct and up-to-date. If you need to register or make corrections to your registration, click here.

While the following saying may or may not be attributable to founding father Thomas Jefferson, it is nonetheless true:

“We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”

This is why ATPE continues to emphasize the importance of voting, and why your vote in a runoff election may be the most influential vote you cast throughout the entire election cycle. That’s because turnout is typically so low in a runoff election that the outcome of each race may be decided by just a handful of voters.

This is a critical time for our state. The candidates voters choose to represent them will have tremendous influence over school funding, state assessments, teacher pay, school safety, and countless other issues that will be even more important in light of the pandemic and the resulting economic recession. To put an even finer point on the matter, candidates elected this year to the Texas Legislature could make the difference in next year’s state budget decisions that will have a direct impact on school district staffing.

Remember also that in many cases here in Texas, the winners of the July 14 runoffs will become the ultimate winners of the final election in November, since so many races in Texas are decided by the primaries and not the general election. If you are eligible to vote in the upcoming runoff, as many of you are, we encourage you to learn about the candidates ahead of the election, and make sure your family and friends turn out to vote, as well.

Find out who is running in your district by checking out the Candidates section of our Teach the Vote website. Read their responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey, check out the incumbent legislators’ voting records on education issues, and arm yourself with the information necessary to make an informed choice in support of public education.

Make your voice heard. Early voting in the runoff elections begins June 29, 2020.

Texas election roundup: More convention and election delays

Like the elections themselves, political party conventions across the country are struggling to make adjustments under the COVID-19 pandemic. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced today it is postponing the presidential convention in Milwaukee to August 17 from July 13. Joe Biden, who will likely be the party’s nominee, had recently called for party officials to delay the convention over coronavirus concerns.

The Texas Democratic Party has already announced it is moving its June 4 state convention onto a digital platform. The party is expected to announce more information in the coming weeks about how the virtual convention will work.

Back in March, the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) postponed its convention until July 13. It was originally scheduled to be held May 11. Currently the RPT convention is still scheduled as in-person event to be held in Houston. The Republican National Convention is scheduled to be held August 24 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Many municipal governments across Texas have followed Gov. Greg Abbott’s request to postpone local elections to November 3 that were originally scheduled for May 2. However, some have yet to do so. According to TXElects.com, the cities of Abilene, Irving, Lufkin, Sugar Land, and Tyler are among those that have not postponed their elections.