Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Civics 101

In his weekly “Watchdog” article in the Dallas Morning News on November 19, Dave Lieber decided to join Empower Texas and others who have recently criticized initiatives across the state encouraging educators and students to vote.  I find the basic premise of their arguments, namely that tax dollars are being used to promote a voting platform, to be lacking in any real fact based analysis.  Instead, the intent of some is to do all that they can to question an effort that will increase the number of voters casting ballots in the March primary.

Lieber, who is certainly no friend of public education and has a great deal of disdain for elected school boards, at least does make an effort to understand what is being said in forums such as the recent TASB/TASA Convention.  As an attendee, he likes to cherry pick content and to use it for his specific purposes, namely to continue to bash those involved in public education.  I respect his right to do so (although I have to question his motives in most of his Watchdog articles) but he clearly is in the business of selling headlines, not wanting to let facts get in the way of a good story.

I got to thinking a bit more about initiatives such as Texas Educators Vote and the efforts of Texans for Public Education.  I quickly came to the conclusion that these efforts are perhaps the greatest evidence of Civics 101 that we have seen in quite a while.  In my opinion, there are a couple of reasons that voter turnout is as low as it is with Texas being among the lowest in the country. One is the age old argument by some that their vote doesn’t really count so why bother?  The second is that they really don’t know anything about the candidates or the issues so cannot cast an informed vote.

The “get out the vote” efforts are precisely focused on those two issues.  With public education under attack and with a base of perhaps 700,000 public educators who may or may not be engaged in the voting process, this is no longer an issue of an individual’s vote not counting.  When combined with those of the other voters, the numbers can have a significant impact on the outcome of an election and that’s where the LG, the Governor, Empower Texans and so many others get concerned … and they should be!

On the second argument, people suggesting that they don’t vote because they don’t understand the issues or know anything about candidates, the “get out the vote” effort is also an effort to ensure that those eligible to vote know what the issues are, how they will impact public education, and how those elected to serve are positioning themselves relative to public education.  Again, those opposed to these initiatives don’t want to let the facts get in the way of a good story.

For my “vote”, I see goodness in the continued challenge of these initiatives.  The more the efforts remain in the headlines, the better those impacted by actions in Austin will understand the ramifications.  It’s my hope that this will add to the motivation of educators to get (and remain) engaged and to vote to ensure that the state fulfills its obligation in making education a priority.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

So why don't we engage and vote?

Texas traditionally has one of the lowest, if not the lowest, voter turnout of any state. In fact, as a percentage of registered voters, it's not uncommon for that percentage to be in the low double digits. I've given a lot of thought to why this is the case, as have many others, and it all falls back to engagement. While engagement is an often overused word, the reality is that if an issue or action doesn't hit close to home for many people, they're not concerned about it.

But just wait until something does hit close to home. A great example has been, and will continue to be, the impact of diminishing state funding of our public education system. In my district, I actually ran for a seat on the board of trustees in 2005 (and served until 2015) after programs were cut and the district declared financial exigency. While not necessarily the fault of the district, the actions taken, including program and headcount cuts, were a direct result of reduced funding. And now it's déjà vu all over again.

The last legislative session did little to address the problem and this became a very partisan issue, especially in discussions between the two chambers. We're already starting to see the ramifications as candidates who oppose those who supported public education are launching their campaigns.  If that doesn’t cause educators and those impacted by public education (pretty much all of us, I believe) to engage, I don’t know what will.

So what are we to do about this? First and foremost, readers of my blog are those who traditionally have either been engaged in or are supportive of public education. The reality, however, is that educators have traditionally voted at an even lower rate than the general population. But that may be starting to change, largely as a response to the attacks and lack of funding for public education.  A number of organizations have initiated efforts to increase voting by educators; the most notable program with which I am familiar is Texas Educators Vote (texaseducatorsvote.com).

As of this post, more than 3000 individuals across the state have taken the oath to become a part of an engaged group focused on supporting candidates who are supportive of public education.  And that number is growing rapidly.  Many school boards have adopted resolutions in support of this effort as well.  The goal is to create a voting culture within districts that energizes educators to vote on those issues that impact them so significantly.

Many in Austin would prefer that options other than public education, including vouchers (by any name), become the focus of the education debate.  Let’s not wait until it’s too late.  It’s time for us to engage, to become involved in dialog with our representatives, and to ensure that those in Austin make public education a priority.  The 5.4 million Texas public education students are counting on each of us to act … now.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Thank You, Bobby J Rigues!

In 2011, Aledo ISD trustee Bobby J Rigues turned public education advocacy on end when he launched Make Education a Priority, a grassroots public education advocacy effort that sought to bring attention and focus to the importance of public education.  Within a very short period of time, Bobby’s efforts were rewarded by adoption of a resolution in support of Make Education a Priority by more than 600 school districts across the State of Texas.

When Bobby undertook this effort and began talking with districts, it was clear that he had founded a new approach to public education advocacy whose purpose was to promote engagement on the part of the more than 7000 school district trustees in the state.  At the time, I was serving as a trustee in Carroll ISD and was proud that we were one of those districts that quickly and unanimously adopted and endorsed a resolution in support of students across the state.

I was honored when Bobby asked me to join MEaP in 2014 as its president and was privileged to work with him as we moved toward non-profit status.  As a board, we continued to build on the momentum created by Bobby and continued to be a visible force in public education advocacy.  Among our accomplishments was the launch of School Priority Month last October, an effort designed to create a platform for advocacy not only with legislators but all elected officials serving a local school district.  I’m especially proud of that effort and very appreciative of the support afforded MEaP by participating districts.

Over the past several months, the board of MEaP has had a number of discussions about how we could best serve the more than 5.3 million students as well as educators and administrators across the state.  We have been very successful in building relationships and alliances with a number of advocacy groups and felt that we could have the greatest impact by consolidating our efforts and passion with Friends of Texas Public Schools.  We are honored that they see value in what we can bring to this joint effort.

With this change, I want to personally thank Bobby J Rigues for crafting the vision that laid the groundwork for a successful advocacy effort.  He is not only a close friend but is a close friend of all who impact, and are impacted by, public education.  All of us who have had the privilege of working with him are stronger advocates for our students.  He truly exemplifies a focus on making education a priority and I know that he will continue to be a strong friend of public education.

Thank you, Bobby J Rigues.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Must Be Present to Win

I have made a number of references in my blogs to articles written by Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune.  His article touched on the need for businesses to stay engaged with the legislature, specifically relating to the lobbying by businesses late in the session who were opposed to the LG’s bathroom bill. He continues to be a voice of reason and this headline really landed with me as also addressing issues relating to public education. 

For me, this headline can be a rallying cry for engagement by those whose lives touch and are touched by our public education system.  I’ve written more than one blog discussing the need for educators to actively engage in the voting process, to exercise their power in numbers to affect an outcome in elections that will be more favorable to public education initiatives and, more importantly, the future of the nearly 5.4 million Texas public education students.  Never has it been more important that the effort to create voting cultures in districts and communities succeeds. 

But you must be present to win, i.e., you have to engage and then participate by voting.  I’ve heard several people say to me, “but I don’t know who to vote for”.  There are and will be numerous resources that provide information on candidates.  Some will be partisan but many more will be non-partisan.  Among the latter, I will continue to include Texas Parent PAC, Texans for Public Education and Texas Educators Vote.  Visit any of their web sites to get a sense of what they are doing to promote engagement and to share information regarding candidate platforms.

With the legislative and special sessions now in the past and discussions largely dominated by testing, Hurricane Harvey and other considerations, it’s important to engage now.  We have 18 months until the March, 2019 primaries (16 until early voting).  If we wait until close to the primaries, we will have lost the opportunity to be a part of the discussion and, in many cases, the opportunity to influence the outcome of the next election cycle.  Kids across the state are counting on us to act; let’s be certain that we make education a priority by becoming more engaged and by helping to lead the charge to bring attention to the issues that will impact our students’ ability to succeed.

No, you can’t call it in by just talking about the issues.  You must be present to win in the form of meetings with incumbents and challengers, as well casting a vote for those individuals favorable to, and supportive of, public education.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Policy over Party, part 2

In June, I wrote a blog about my personal shift in perspective from voting for a candidate because of a particular party affiliation with limited regard for where that candidate stood on the issues to one focused on the platform of that candidate; click here to read my blog.  The actions (perhaps inactions is a better word!) of the Senate in the 85th and special sessions certainly reinforced the need to adopt “policy over party” as a go-forward mindset.

Last week, Ross Ramsey, co-founder and executive editor of the Texas Tribune, published an article titled “Early omens of a very conservative GOP primary”.  If you have not read it, I encourage you to do so by either clicking on the title above or by clicking here.  The bottom line from his standpoint is that, since all statewide office holders (all Republican) have announced plans to seek reelection, the cascade impact of this makes it easier for what he termed as “full throated” conservatives to win election in down-ballot races.  He further states that one of the reasons that this is the case is that these individuals are elected by a “reliable” group of conservative voters, individuals who cast a ballot in most elections.

That’s where the opportunity now opens up for educators and others concerned about the future of public education in the State of Texas.  It’s well documented that many in this pro-public education group have not voted on a consistent basis.  But with very low voter turnout in Texas, initiatives that will get public education supporters to the ballot box may very well sway the outcome of races across the state.  And that is good news for the more than 5.3 million public education students who rely on their elected officials to support them.

While certainly not limited to only two such initiatives, the Texas Educators Vote initiative and a renewed push by superintendents to register eligible high school students can have a dramatic impact on primary day and on Election Day.  Once registered, it’s critical that the push to actually vote becomes a focal point and there are numerous groups focusing on that effort as well.  And that’s where “policy over party” comes into play.

Eligible voters, and especially the public education advocates and educators in the upcoming primary and general elections, need to invest time in understanding the platforms of candidates, regardless of the candidate’s party affiliation.  If we fail to do so or even if we have a preferred candidate but don’t exercise our right to vote, those most impacted are the kids in the classroom.  That’s not fair to them or to the future of our state.  All of us must understand the criticality of upcoming elections and come together as a group to elect those who will make education a priority.  Our students are watching and counting on us.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Time to Vote!

Between the regular session and the special session, it was easy for public education advocates to hit the wall!  I know that I did.  When you hear nothing but criticism (from much of Austin), it’s easy to throw your hands up in the air and resign yourself to the actions of the legislature.  And that’s exactly what many want us to do, led by the Lt. Governor and the chair of the Senate Education Committee.

But that’s the last thing that we all should be doing!  Much has been written and several groups have initiatives underway to address the constant barrage of public education criticism.  In this blog, I’d like to highlight two specific initiatives.

Texans for Public Education, a group founded by Troy Reynolds, (Facebook – texans4publiced; texansforpubliceducation.com; Twitter - @texans4e) has done a very nice job of putting together a scorecard of where each legislator stands on public education.  His is an evolving process and with the support and input of all of us, he is constantly updating the “grades” of each legislator.  He also offers specific commentary about reasons and actions that support the “grade”.

Texas Educators Vote (texaseducatorsvote.com), launched by the Texas Association of Community Schools (web – tacsnet.org; Twitter - @tacsnet) under the leadership of Barry Haenisch and Laura Yeager, was developed as a campaign prior to the last general election to drive increased voter participation by educators … and it worked! Now back and newly refined, Texas Educators Vote is focused not just on getting out the vote, but making sure that educators have access to information that helps them understand which candidates are supportive of public education. 

Texas educators can make a difference at the polls and certainly continue to do so on a daily basis in the classroom.  It’s sad that some in Austin fail to acknowledge educators’ efforts but the next round of primaries and the general election will serve as a great opportunity to change the mindset in Austin.

What all of this boils down to is the need for educators to engage in the election process. Although educators are often criticized and challenged for their efforts, these two outstanding groups have taken the initiative to change the culture in Austin.  They are not alone but they can only do so much.  It’s up to educators and others who support public education to engage and act … now.  It’s time for us to do our homework on who supports public education and do what we can to ensure that those individuals have a seat in Austin, a seat that will make education a priority for the more than 5.3 million Texas public education students.

Words alone will not make a difference … it’s Time to Vote!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What is More Important?

Starting with the phrase “20 in 20” and continuing through the Governor’s threats to note all who oppose “his” 20 items, this special session has been particularly galling.  When I say “his” agenda, I think we all know that this is not the Governor’s at all but that of the LG.  Pandering to the LG is a sad way to run the State but, after all, the election cycle has started along with the headline grab!

What I find most troubling is the effort by the LG to push through legislation with somewhat limited discussion.  His moves to quash parliamentary procedures in order to get “his way” do not serve the majority of the citizens in the State despite his statements that he is doing what citizens want to have done.  And, so far at least, that seems to be working for him … but there is still hope that sanity will prevail in the House.

The Speaker has been accused of plodding through the items on the Governor’s call but what is wrong with a thorough vetting and discussion of the issues impacting each area?  In fact, Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune wrote an article earlier this week in which he referenced the tortoise (House) and the hare (Senate).  Under the Speaker's leadership and the leadership of Public Education committee Chairman Huberty, I am hopeful that the discussions from the 85th will continue and that the House will continue to hold the line on an anti-voucher (by any name) position as well as focusing on how to adequately fund our public school system.

I doubt seriously that the LG’s goal of “20 in 20” will be achieved although there is certainly a possibility (and increasing probability) that the Senate will pass legislation addressing each of the items on the Governor’s call.  But is that what this is really all about?  Perhaps the only good news is that any shortening of the special session would result in some savings of the monies wasted in calling this session. 

I am not suggesting that the session go the full 30 days but what seems most important is a thorough vetting of ideas and legislation, not just a race to see how quickly the legislature can get to the finish line in addressing each item.  As sanity prevails in the House, regardless of the outcomes and whether decisions align with my personal interests, I hope that the topics will get the attention they deserve and that, rather than a headline grab, the legislature focuses on doing the right thing, not just the politics and bullying driving actions in the Senate.