PTA Mom to Educators: That Was Your Wake-Up Call

ivotedstickerBy PTA Mom

Texas educators – did you hear that? That was your wake-up call.

Your lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, suggested last month that Texas teachers are paid fairly. “At the end of the day, we’re paying our school teachers – when you count in cost of living – a very fair salary.” said Dewhurst. Dewhurst chose to ignore these facts:

  • Depending on the study, Texas ranks somewhere between 33rd and 38th in the nation in teacher salaries. One measure indicated Texas teachers in 2009-10 received a salary $7,700 less than the national average. Another indicated 2013 Texas teacher salaries were $8,723 below the national average. Regardless of the study you view, Texas certainly appears to be an outlier in teacher salaries.
  • But it gets worse. Texas ranks dead last in the nation in contributing toward teacher benefits – a full 60% less than the national average according to the 2012 U.S. Census Bureau report.
  • According to that report, when you factor teacher salaries and benefits, Texas falls to a dismal 40th in teacher compensation. So, while your salary may hover in the lower quartiles of the national average, the fact that Texas contributes so little toward benefits means that your take-home pay plummets. While I’m sure you’ve probably already noticed that, it appears the lieutenant governor has not.

Many likely disagree with the lite gov regarding how well Texas compensates its teachers. Others may have different studies or measures to compare and discuss. But, frankly, it doesn’t matter. The recent debate about teacher compensation simply masks a larger, fundamental issue.

What this Dewhurst kerfuffle should signal to Texas educators is that your elected leaders are completely out of touch with the realities and needs of public education and educators. In fact, some just plain don’t care about Texas’ education system. Worse yet, others would prefer to do away with the public system altogether.

Many of the lawmakers you elect to represent you continue to demonstrate their disregard for public education. They demonstrate it when they increase testing requirements while decreasing funding. They demonstrate it when they sell out to Big Testing at the expense of real teaching. They demonstrate it by proposing a variety of voucher schemes fully intended to undermine public schools. They demonstrate it when they look the other way as national charter management organizations of questionable merit and dubious distinction set up shop in our state on the taxpayer’s dime.

They’re sending a pretty clear message, educators – but are you listening?

Texas politicians sent you a wake-up call. It’s time for change. It’s time to send home politicians who don’t recognize the importance of public education to Texas’ future and long-term economic development. It’s time to identify and support lawmakers who will not only uphold Texas’ constitutional requirement to provide an adequate public education system, but who will strive for policy that makes Texas an education leader.

Fortunately, this happens to be one of the best times to force that kind of change in Austin. It’s election time – when the chickens come home to roost for Texas politicians. Here’s what you can do:

  • VOTE!  Civics 101 – if you’re not voting, you’re part of the problem. Aside from moneyed special interests and lobbyists, politicians are often responsive to consistent voting blocs. These are the groups that show up at the polls. They vote in the primary elections, as well as general elections. They’re vocal and they get attention from lawmakers.By sheer numbers, (there are roughly 400,000 of you statewide) educators have the ability to be an important voting bloc. First and foremost, however, you’ll need to vote. Not only do you need to vote in the general election (November 4 this year), but the primaries as well. In fact, many Texas elections are decided in the primary – so be sure to vote in the primary and do so strategically. This year’s primary is March 4 with early voting from February 18-28. Mark these dates on your calendar. You can’t afford to miss it!
  • BE VOCAL! Let politicians know that public education is an important issue to voters – one that drives voting decisions. Talk to them about education at town hall meetings and debates. Write, call, or visit your representative. Ask candidates about their understanding of the challenges facing public education. Share information with your colleagues. Let them know that elections directly impact your profession. Encourage them to research, vote, and get involved.
  • KNOW WHO YOUR FRIENDS ARE! Not all candidates are created equal. Be certain you know who you’re voting for. What’s your representative’s position on supporting public education – and does their rhetoric match their voting record? How did your representative vote on education bills this past session – did they vote to restore funding, did they vote for yet another school voucher scheme, did they vote to reduce testing? Is the candidate you’re considering interested in upholding and strengthening Texas’ public schools or quick to pull the trigger for profit-driven reforms at the expense of Texas students? Who is endorsing your candidate’s campaign? That information is available to you – consider it.There are politicians who support public education – and some who don’t. It’s your job as an educator and voter to figure out who is who. Take the incumbent representative in House District 92, Representative Jonathan Stickland, for instance. Speaking through social media about education in 2011, Stickland seemed to suggest it’s not his responsibility “to help other peoples [sic] children … at the expense of my own.”

    And his voting record seems to support this apparent disregard for public education – during the last legislative session Stickland voted in the minority in support of school voucher schemes to funnel taxpayer money to private interests; voted against school breakfast programs for students (a bill ultimately signed into law by Governor Perry last spring); and despite a surplus and robust and growing rainy day fund, Stickland voted for a budget that didn’t restore the historic education cuts from the previous session – leaving schools funded at pre-2010 levels.

    How many educators in District 92 voted for Representative Stickland unaware he would actually vote against the interests of public education? How many educators will make that mistake again in this year’s primary race?

    There are many races statewide just like this. For example, candidate for lieutenant governor, Senator Dan Patrick once boasted that the historic education budget cuts in 2011 were a cut to “entitlements,” as if the public system that educates five million Texas children each year was a so-called handout akin to food stamps or welfare programs.

    How many other candidates are out there just like this? And how many educators will vote for these politicians to the detriment of their own profession? Educators, learn who your friends are – and aren’t. And vote accordingly.

Over the past decade many Texas lawmakers have been content to stand by and watch this state’s public education system decay through underfunding, over-testing, indifference, and disrespect. Yet these lawmakers are sent back to Austin to represent you time and time again.  Elections have consequences – and Texas’ students and educators are forced to live with those consequences every day.

So what do you intend to do about it? Will you continue sending the status quo back to Austin or will you support the candidate who will best represent your interests, those of your school, those of your students, and those of your profession?

Do you intend to let politicians know that public education is a critical issue that impacts your vote? Will you demand attention for your profession from your elected officials? Or will you choose to elect a governor that doesn’t even recognize education as an issue important enough to list on his campaign website?

The choice is yours. I hope you make a good one.

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