If you’re like me, service as a school board trustee from 1995 until May of this year, I didn’t take full advantage of the opportunities to connect with legislators during the interim, the time between the close of the 84th Legislature and the beginning of the 85th Legislature in January, 2017. But now is really a great time to initiate dialog with your representatives in Austin (with some caveats) now that they are “home” and spending more time in their district.
The main caveat is that there have been a number of key legislators across the State of Texas who have announced plans not to run for office in 2016. In many cases, including Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, chairman of the House Public Education Committee, this will have far reaching consequences for public education. So you need to make certain that your advocacy efforts are clearly targeted.
At the same time, open seats represent an opportunity for us to tell our story to a new potential audience. The caveat here is that many announced candidates will have a primary opponent so it can be a challenge to figure out who will represent you in the 85th Session. Starting too early, unless you have no bounds on your time, may not achieve the results you desire. This is not to discourage you from engaging candidates in dialog but to encourage you to focus your time, energy and messaging.
Especially for those incumbents who have already announced or are likely to run in 2016, now is a great time to sit down and talk with them about public education. We can expect to see continued focus and discussion surrounding so-called school choice (remember that public education is school choice), vouchers, and other vehicles that will divert funds from public education, as we asl discussions regarding high stakes testing.
I recently had the opportunity to meet with three key education advocacy groups in Austin, Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Accountability (TAMSA), Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association (TEPSA), and Pastors for Texas Children. Along with TASB, these organizations are working hard to have their voices heard in Austin.
While I won’t pretend to know all of the advocacy groups that support public education, each of you has your favorites. Stay in touch with them and make certain that you know their position and are able to succinctly tell your story, asking for their support of your position. And if your district has a legislative platform, share it with everyone at every opportunity.
Of course, the elephant in the room is the upcoming hearing by the Texas Supreme Court of the school finance case. While difficult to plan for an unknown outcome, school board trustees should carefully watch the proceedings so that you are poised to respond to whatever decision is made.
The next 12-15 months represent a great opportunity for each of us as public education advocates. Don’t sit idly on the sidelines thinking you cannot influence those who represent you. You will find that just the opposite is true!