People ask me all the time what they can do to support public education. Some of these people are actively involved with their local campus and many are members of their school’s PTA. Many also participate in booster club and other activities that support the local schools, including fund raising to supplement funds received from the state. While these are all to be applauded, support of public education requires greater participation at the ballot box.
There is a concerted effort on the part of many candidates challenging incumbents, particularly in the Texas House of Representatives, to push for dismantling of public education today. Hiding behind the false premise that our schools are failing, these individuals advocate for vouchers and other programs that would shift dollars from the legacy public education system into other avenues for educating the more than 5.3M students in Texas schools, 93% of whom attend public schools.
We would be foolish to deny that there are schools and even districts that have been consistently underperforming and failing to meet the needs (and expectations) of our students. But to suggest that we solve the problem by shifting dollars to other options actually fails the students even more. Not all students will be able to avail themselves of other school choice options (by the way, public education is also part of school choice) since the dollars moved would not totally support the costs of education. Those who are unable to do so would then be faced with the compounding prospect of limited resources to help them close the gaps in achievement.
So what can we do? Reagan High School (Austin ISD) is a classic example of how community members and the businesses within a community can come together to tackle a consistently underperforming (what some might label as “failing”) campus. While change did not occur overnight, the combined efforts of these community members, teachers and staff, and the students themselves turned around the campus to the point that it is now considered to be a high performing campus. It can be done but requires the commitment and passion of all stakeholders.
The other critical immediate and impactful action is to vote and to encourage others to vote. Look at the candidate’s positions on education and challenge them to tell you how they will vote relative to education issues. Do they favor a shift of dollars or are they willing to commit to an investment in public education that will generate the returns required to ensure our liberties and the long term economic viability of the state? Will they commit to making the hard decisions, often in the face of pressure from leadership in their respective chambers, that ensure that public education can achieve the aspirations of our students?
Regardless of your position on these issues, the bottom line is that, as a society, we all must exercise our right to vote. Those who don’t vote have no right to stand on the sidelines and criticize the decisions being made. For my part, I will support legislators that Make Education a Priority.