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1. If elected, what will your top priorities for public education be?
1. We need to recruit and retain quality teachers in our classroom (higher pay, better and more secure benefits and build a culture of collaboration not standardized testing) 2. We must make a significant investment in early childhood education with a priority on fully funding full day Pre K programs. 3. Realign budget priorities to fully fund our schools.
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?
Every child, regardless of zip code, deserves access to a quality public K-12 education. The lack of public school education funding in Texas is an embarrassment. I support an equitable funding system that increases annually so that local school districts can afford systemic investments each year, like substantive pay increases for our educators. I will push for full restoration of the billion dollar cuts immediately. Funding these recommendations would simply require the Legislature to realign the state's budget priorities to increase the emphasis on providing high quality public education to every Texan. Finally, I will stand up to protect the Property Tax Relief Fund, which some House members continue to threaten after last session. Alterations to business franchise tax will lead to significantly less funds for crucial programs in our public schools, like STEAM programs, specialty schools and, of course, Full Day Pre-K. The moment of reckoning has come and now it is time for public servants to choose People Over Profits!
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?
This again goes back to a funding issue. The State must increase its contribution to our educator healthcare system. The teacher who recently died because she didn't have the money to pay for flu medications is a stark reminder of our responsibility to fight for our public employees. If the State refuses to pay its fair share, we should consider creative ways to cap the amount that educators are asked to pay.
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?
I believe in maintain the TRS because experienced public employees are crucial to the function of our strong Texas economy and we must honor them in retirement. I value the contribution that public employees and teachers make to the health and prosperity of our State. We must push to have a sound and sustainable retirement system that rewards our employees for their hard work and dedication. 401K-style plans may work for some in the private sector, but they are too risky and we must demand more for our public employees because the only way to retain the best talent is to have a robust and well-defined pension plan so that employees know that there will be security once they retire. Finally, I strongly favor a cost of living adjustment for retirees and I will advocate for such an adjustment. How can we expect retirees to live comfortably if their retirement plans do not increase with the cost of living? Food, electricity, medical and family needs will not remain stagnant over time, and neither should the pension plans.
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.?
Testing should be used as one measure of student progress and of maintaining a baseline of student knowledge – that's it. Tests should NOT be the only measure for school accountability purposes and scores should definitely not be the major tool used to evaluate teachers. To the extent that tests are used, we should emphasize growth because it's fundamentally unfair to judge a teacher or school by the success or failure of a student on one test, especially when there are so many other factors that go into performance (family, poverty, etc.).
6. Would you support a state-funded across-the-board pay raise for all Texas classroom teachers?
Yes – but the key is state funded. Our local school districts are already overburdened with unfunded mandates from Austin. I will push the State to fund an across the board pay raise.
7. To what extent should student performance determine teacher pay?
Teacher pay should be passed on quality and experience. Student GROWTH should only be used as a small portion of a teachers evaluation. It is absurd to think that teachers should be responsible for student performance on one test. No other profession is judge off such a simplistic and dangerous metric
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?
Absolutely not. I will oppose private school vouchers in any form whatsoever. Me, my wife and all five of my children are products of Texas public schools. My grandchildren currently attend Texas public schools. Investments in public school education is the only way to ensure an equitable and just education system for all children in Texas. It is ludicrous that lawmakers in Austin would even consider funding for private school vouchers, when we can't even fully fund our public schools. I will oppose any attempts at privatization and fight for more equitable funding of public schools.
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. Worker's rights are fundamental to what it means to be an American. Besides, hardworking Texans should be able to do whatever they want with their money and Republicans in Austin should not interfere with this right just to push an anti-union political agenda. Without the protection of unions, the free market economy will do whatever it takes to suppress wages and create unconscionable working conditions. We saw this at work in Wisconsin, where Republican Governor Scott Walker stripped away union rights in his State. As a result, teacher salaries have stagnated and working conditions and morale are at an all-time low in that State. Texas already has too many barriers in place as it is, and any attempts to eliminate payroll deductions just adds insult to injury. I will stand for the rights of workers to organize and contribute to unions. It's the right thing to do as Texans and as Americans.
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?
I support DOIs to the extent that local districts can reduce the enormous amount of standardized testing in our schools – this should be the focus of such local control initiatives. I do not support increasing the class size limit – there is no way in the world that a teacher can be as effective in a room of 30 students, as she or he can be in a class of 18 students. We must also require our educators to be highly qualified. The teacher shortage in Texas should not be addressed by lower standards – it should be addressed by increasing pay and employment conditions.
I am asking for your support and vote in the runoff election - together we can secure a solid public school education system for all Texas students and educators. I will go to Austin and FIGHT FOR YOU!
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