In last week’s update from the Texas Association of Community Schools (TACS), TACS Governmental Affairs director Laura Yeager shared some philosophical observations about the ongoing public school discussions in the 85th Legislature, drawing a sharp contrast between actions of the two bodies and noting the impact of the leader of each chamber. There clearly has been a sharp contrast in styles and Laura noted the actions by many Senators that seem more focused on maintaining a “seat at the table” with the Lieutenant Governor than making an effort to listen to and serve their constituents.
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time focusing on this area as well but I thought that the “seat at the table” reference was a very succinct way of getting the message across. In sharp contrast to the House, where Speaker Straus continues to show leadership by encouraging House members to understand the needs of their constituents (“vote your district”, as he defined it), the Lt. Governor continues to hammer away at his list of priorities, not those of the people he and the Senate were elected to serve.
There is probably no better representation of the Lt. Governor’s lack of focus on constituents than a comment I saw in a tweet yesterday by a group that supports his actions. In a post by that group that was largely focused on budget considerations and the differences between budgets adopted in the Senate and in the House, they commended the LG for actions that address the “state’s needs”. But where in this discussion are the needs of the residents of Texas addressed?
I understand the LG’s position that the rainy day fund should not be used to fund ongoing operations of the State and somewhat agree with this … to a point. As a former school board trustee in a Chapter 41 district, we were constantly faced with a budget challenge and, as a last resort, approved a budget that would cause us to tap our fund balance if needed. However, working with administration, we sought ways to find savings in other areas that would offset any potential deficit requiring accessing the fund balance and were generally successful in doing so.
Given that, perhaps the “seat at the table” should be more focused on finding solutions to budget issues, transportation, school finance, child welfare, etc. instead of being worried about what committee a Senator might be appointed to. However, the style of the LG is not one that is open to that as a consideration. With the backing of certain groups and a predisposition to focus on his defined priorities, “seat at the table” with the LG remains more about serving individual needs than those of all of us.
Ultimately, as Laura pointed out in her summary, it comes down to voting. Under a campaign TACS launched called Texas Educators Vote (texaseducatorsvote.com), TACS is pushing for expanding participation by educators, a significant population that can bring about a greater focus on making education a priority. Rather than focus on the posturing to be aligned with the LG for personal gain, we must make certain that we all have a “seat at the table” in serving the needs of 5.4 million Texas public education students.