It’s easy as we move through the initial 140 day period of the 85th legislative session to identify those in favor of public education and those seeking to privatize it. While these lines are predominantly along party lines, there certainly are exceptions based on urban v. rural, for example, or the House v. the Senate.
Last week witnessed a sharp divergence of opinion and actions by two individuals elected as Republicans. On the one hand was Senator Don Huffines, who needlessly chose to attack a group of Richardson ISD students who sought to engage in a discussion about public education and the impact of a voucher (by any name) program. That exchange was certainly inappropriate and has gone viral, with Sen. Huffines now initiating a written apology to the students who were involved. No such apology was delivered to the parents who were involved or as he called them, the “liberal PTA activists”.
Sadly, we may be living in a time where politics at the state and federal level has evolved to a point where there cannot be a civil discussion of the issues impacting all of us. And this lack of civility is coming from members of both political parties. More than anything, this is representative of the leadership (or lack thereof) among our elected officials.
In sharp contrast to the personal affront to a group of students stands the stance taken by the newly appointed chairman of the House Public Education Committee, Rep. Dan Huberty. Some had anticipated that Chairman Huberty might advance a bill to provide vouchers to those with special needs (Rep. Ron Simmons did introduce such legislation last week) but the chairman has been steadfast in his opposition to vouchers (by any name) and clearly stated that there would be no voucher legislation coming out of the House during the regular session.
It will be interesting to now see how the Senate “leadership” attempts to use the fact that no House-sponsored legislation is forthcoming as a bargaining chit when discussing school finance and how best to address the Supreme Court’s ruling that the school finance system meets the “minimum constitutional requirements”. Instead of doing what he can to try to address the gaps identified, the Lt. Governor is likely poised to hold dollars for ransom pending voucher discussions.
As we move through the session, I anticipate that we will see a greater division between heroes and villains, those who work to serve the needs of their constituents or those who look to serve the needs of special interests and personal agendas. Of one thing I am certain … public education advocacy is on the rise and will continue to make these discussions more uncomfortable for the “villains”. How they respond remains to be seen but it is absolutely up to all of us to make certain that the State of Texas makes public education a priority.