Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Trustees - Your Voices Must be Heard!

Sen. Konni Burton has introduced SB 1862, a bill that would prohibit school districts and other public institutions from advocating on behalf of their constituents.  But nowhere is there any effort to control or limit the efforts of other lobbyists in furthering their cause by lobbying before the legislature.  Aren’t our elected officials in Austin there to seek out viewpoints from all parties, then decide on a course of action?

One of her arguments is that public monies are being committed to a cause that may not be supported by the very public that has paid their taxes to the political subdivision; from my standpoint, the political subdivision here is an elected Board of Trustees governing the public school districts in the State of Texas.  The reality is that the public does have a say in how their monies are being spent by electing trustees that they believe will be good stewards of the funds of the district. 

On the other hand, does the public have any say or control over how dollars are being spent by other lobbyists?  For example, Pearson lobbies extensively in support of their textbooks and their assessment efforts that are part of the STAAR exams.  Clearly, Pearson is passing those costs back to the very clients that they purport to serve, namely public education.  The State of Texas is then funding these efforts.  And who ultimately pays for this?  Hmm, might it be the citizens of the State of Texas?

There is a huge difference between lobbying and advocacy.  Pearson expends significant dollars advocating for a greater share of funds, funds that directly impact public education.  If they are successful, the only “winner” is Pearson. 

On the other hand, the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) represents the more than 1000 public education school districts in Texas.  If one believes that elected trustees are good stewards of public monies and that the needs of students drive decisions trustees make, TASB is the “voice” for the over 5 million public education students (and growing) in the State.  Unlike Pearson, TASB is not focused on self-interests but on advocating for student issues relating to funding, graduation requirements, curriculum and a myriad of other topics. 

It’s important that the public education student in the State of Texas have a “voice” in Austin.  While local trustees can certainly advocate for their districts and for public education as a whole, the fact is that advocacy on behalf of all students benefits the State a great deal.  This legislation fails to acknowledge the difference between lobbying and advocacy, creating a playing field that is heavily slanted toward business self-interest. 

Public education students deserve the right to be heard in Austin; SB 1862 would quiet that voice to the detriment of all students.  The responsibility of our representatives in Austin is to listen to all voices, not to silence those whose opinions differ from their own.

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