Over the past couple of weeks, public education committees in the Senate and in the House have held committee hearings on a number of subjects. One need only watch parts of these hearings to get a sense of the challenges we face as public education advocates. In some cases, there is a clear bias against public education, somewhat driven by leadership in the Senate and the interim charges released by the Lt. Governor. While more focused on supporting public education in the House, we can anticipate that there will be issues where this is a divergence of positions and perspectives.
What is becoming increasingly critical is for public education advocates to engage even more so than they have to this point in time. There is a small nucleus of engaged individuals who are consistently in front of the education committees or who consistently communicate with the legislators serving them. However, that group cannot do it alone.
I recently had the opportunity to serve on a panel at the North Texas Area Association of School Boards where the topic was that of advocacy. Clearly, the message from that forum was the critical requirement that the numbers of those advocating for public education has to increase dramatically and quickly. We can expect to see discussions in the Senate focused on school choice and reform, including vouchers (by any name), while the House will focus much of their discussion on funding issues. Again, the focus in each chamber is driven by the interim charges of the leader of each.
Public education is but one of the major issues to be discussed (and cussed) during the 85th legislative session. It’s human nature that actions of those elected to serve us will somewhat be driven by the messages they hear from their constituents and others. And while there is a vocal minority among public education advocates, we have to increase our numbers and be even more vocal. The reality is that many in both chambers have a limited perspective on education, just as I do on topics such as transportation. We must help them understand the impact of their actions and decision.
It is up to each of us to increase the volume and frequency of messaging and to ensure that the needs of the nearly 5.3 million Texas public education students become, and remain, front and center during discussions about public education. This heightened awareness on the part of legislators will be critical to ensuring that they Make Education a Priority. The students in the State of Texas are counting on all of us to do so.