Recommended favorably by Texans for Public Education, a grassroots educators' group that has researched and rated candidates in the 2018 election based on their stances toward public schools.
Endorsed in the 2018 general election by Texas Parent PAC, a pro-public education organization that advocates for adequate and equitable funding of public schools, local control, teacher quality, and the prevention of private school vouchers.
Endorsed in the 2018 primary election by the editorial board of the Houston Chronicle.
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1. If elected, what will your top priorities for public education be?
In addition to the unfortunate need for defensive work to stop the never-ending attacks on public schools, I have the following priorities to affirmatively improve public education: 1) Restoring the state's share of public school funding to at least 50 percent and using Rainy Day funds to repair the still-lingering consequences of the funding "gap" created by the draconian cuts in 2011. 2) Fixing the recapture system to reflect 2019 realities and to stop penalizing districts that are superficially "property rich" but in reality have large populations of students from lower-income families. 3) Provide funding to local districts for full-day pre-K. 4) Scale back the overuse of standardized testing so that more classroom time can be spent on lessons rather than test preparation and so that teachers and schools can be assessed on fairer, more reliable criteria.
2. Is there a need to increase state funding to meet the needs of our student population? If so, how would you recommend securing more revenue for public education?
Yes, increasing the state's share of public school funding must be the top priority of the next legislature. The state has failed for too long to meet its constitutional obligation of supporting our public schools. Beyond cheating students and teachers of needed funds and services, the state's failure to properly fund our schools will cost Texas its economic standing and hundreds of thousands of quality jobs in the not-too-distant future. Employers consistently report that strong public schools are essential to attracting and retaining high-tech and well-paying 21st century jobs, and employers will not come or stay here if our workforce is undereducated.
3. Healthcare costs for educators have increased dramatically and outpaced the state's contributions, with many current and retired educators now paying more out of pocket than their counterparts in other states or in other professions. As a legislator, how would you address this crisis to ensure that active and retired educators have access to affordable healthcare?
Healthcare quality and affordability are out of reach for too many people across the United States and Texas, and the continued efforts to cut benefits for Texas teachers are emblematic of that crisis. I will oppose any efforts to deprive retirees with TRS-Care of the quality, affordable benefits they have justifiably come to rely on, and I will support expanding TRS-Care funding to make Texas' benefit structure more comparable to other states. Shoring up TRS-Care for current and future beneficiaries is essential to fixing our teacher shortage; unstable and unattractive benefits clearly hurt teacher retention rates.
4. Do you believe the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) should be maintained as a traditional defined benefit pension plan for all future, current, and retired educators, or do you support converting TRS to a defined contribution plan that is more like a 401(k) plan, in which future benefits are not guaranteed?
No one enters the teaching field to "get rich," but one part of the bargain for accepting relatively limited salary potential has always been the promise of a respectable pension that allows for retirement security. Ripping away those benefits would be a broken promise to the teachers who rely on them and would hurt our efforts to attract and retain the best teachers for future generations of students. For these reasons, I support keeping TRS as a defined benefit plan for current, future, and retired teachers.
5. What do you feel is the proper role of standardized testing in Texas's public education system? For instance, should student test scores be used for school accountability purposes, for evaluating teachers, for measuring student progress, etc.?
Standardized testing has run amok in Texas. Such tests were designed as a diagnostic tool to help teachers and administrators tailor their programs. When used as one data point among many, the tests have diagnostic value. But too-frequent testing in a high-stakes environment naturally results in pressure to "teach the test" rather than teach more valuable lessons. Becoming master test-takers does little or nothing to prepare students for real-world employment opportunities. Additionally, standardized tests falsely assume there is a "standardized student" representative of all children in our 800-mile-wide state. These tests cannot and do not reflect the different economic and home environments that the students face, nor can they capture the countless other variables that affect student performance. For these reasons, I do not support using standardized test scores to punish individual schools or teachers.
6. Would you support a state-funded across-the-board pay raise for all Texas classroom teachers?
Yes. The legislature must allocate more state funding to increase the salaries of school employees at least to a point that reaches parity with our competitor states. Texas teacher salaries are more than $6,000 below the national average, and close to half of Texas teachers must take on side jobs to afford their bills. My grandfather was a high school math teacher. He transitioned away from teaching because the ultra-low pay at that time (1970s era) was insufficient to support a family. As a result, safeguarding and improving teacher pay and benefits is a priority that resonates personally. Beyond being the right outcome for teachers, a teacher pay raise is to the obvious benefit of students. Teachers are so underpaid that Texas faces a teacher shortage that is affecting students' classroom experiences and educational outcomes. At a time when half of all new teachers leave the profession within five years of starting, it should be obvious to Texas legislators that better pay and benefits are needed to attract and retain the world-class teachers that our students deserve. "State-funded" is the key provision. Unfunded mandates are just a transparent political scam to make the governor look good and local school boards look bad. In enacting an across-the-board raise, the legislature must actually fund those increases with additional state dollars.
7. To what extent should student performance determine teacher pay?
There is no reliable way to link the two. Standardized tests were not designed to measure teacher performance, and extensive non-partisan research confirms that student test scores are not a valid proxy for teacher performance. Moreover, there are too many other variables at play--such as maturity and home environment--to draw direct causal links between any single teacher and that student's performance in school. Finally, students come into contact with so many teachers in so many subjects over the years that attributing that student's performance to any one teacher would involve inherently subjective and unfair guesswork. Linking teacher pay to standardized test scores is especially detrimental to students and schools that are already struggling. If they know they will blamed and financially penalized based on students' standardized test scores, new teachers are less likely to accept jobs in the schools where they are needed most.
8. 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?
No, I would not vote for any such program. Our Texas public schools already receive far too little funding from the state, and we should be using all available state resources to support and improve our public schools rather than gambling that money on untested and unaccountable private models. This is among the most direct educational policy differences between myself and the incumbent, Rep. Dwayne Bohac. Rather than using his perch on the Education Committee to strengthen Texas public schools, Bohac has used that platform to push for a variety of privatizing and voucher-like schemes (although he misleadingly attempts to relabel some of his school-defunding plans as something other than "vouchers"). Parents, students, and teachers in Northwest Houston deserve a representative who will fight to support and improve—not undercut, financially strangle, or replace—our neighborhood public schools. Bohac stands for finding new semantic gimmicks to divert money from public schools in under-the-radar ways that generate less political blowback for him. I stand for public schools as our #1 legislative and funding priority, period. The contrast is that simple.
9. State law allows educators and other public employees to voluntarily choose to join professional associations like ATPE and have membership dues deducted from their paychecks at no cost to taxpayers. Do you support or oppose letting all public employees use payroll deduction for their membership dues?
I support allowing all public employees, including teachers, to choose the convenience of payroll deduction for membership dues, charitable contributions, and other similar deductions that the employee wants to have withheld.
10. Current law allows school districts with accountability ratings of "C" or better to become Districts of Innovation (DOIs) and exempt themselves from many state statutes, such as elementary school class-size limits, requirements for hiring certified teachers, and more. Would you recommend any changes to the criteria for becoming a DOI? Would you place any limitations on the state laws that can be waived by DOIs?
Yes. The screening criteria should be more rigorous and reliable. I have concerns about blanket waivers of all regulation (such as parental notice requirements) being achieved with no compelling justification specific to the needs of students in that district. We must assure that this process is not solely being used for cost-cutting (e.g., teacher pay reductions or lowered teacher certification) when the real solution to cost pressure at the local level must be increased state funding.
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