PTA Mom Wonders: When Did Legislators Stop Respecting Educators?

A peek into the Texas legislature this morning

By PTA Mom
(Original post February 10, 2013)

Motherhood, and particularly having a school-aged child, has made me highly resourceful – like most PTA moms I know. I’ve become adept at helping with school projects and homework, juggling schedules, the ins and outs of pee wee sports leagues, and how to outwit a willful kindergartener. But, I’m sorry to report that I’m not an expert on everything. (And despite what my husband might say, I’ve never claimed to be!)

Like most people, I rely on subject matter experts a lot. In my private sector workplace I rely on the expertise of other managers and coworkers every day. As a mother, I don’t pretend to know if my son’s illness is strep throat or tonsillitis – I rely on my pediatrician for that diagnosis. As a homeowner, when thunderstorms shorted a few of my electrical outlets recently, I didn’t roll up my sleeves to re-wire the house – I called an electrician. I believe half the battle is understanding and acknowledging the limitations of your own expertise.

So, why then, do some legislators seem to think they understand the challenges faced by our public education system better than those on the front lines – educators and parents?

Texas PTA actively lobbied Governor Rick Perry and the Texas legislature in 2011 asking them not to cut education funding. Educators actively lobbied Governor Rick Perry and the Texas legislature in 2011 asking them not to cut education funding. The pleas of both groups fell on deaf ears and the education budget was slashed by $5.4 billion. Today we know that Texas actually underestimated its revenue receipts and the growth of the rainy day fund – both sources could have adequately funded schools in the last session. In 2013 legislators have the opportunity to right that wrong – but will they listen to educators and parents this time?

Unfortunately, the relationship between educators and many of the state’s legislators has become rather dysfunctional in recent years, which will likely impact budget considerations this session. Somewhere along the way, the expertise of educators has been shunned and even ridiculed. I’m sure you’ve seen examples of some of the vitriol against public education. You can visit lobbyist-activist websites and Facebook pages like Texans for Fiscal Responsibility on nearly any given day to find biased ramblings smearing “educrats” – a disrespectful term they like to use for those who have dedicated their life to public service in the field of education. The same group even likes to target its attacks on Texas Parent PAC, a political action committee comprised of parents, educators, and others dedicated to supporting public education. Even Senator Dan Patrick, now chairman of the Senate Education Committee, dismissed public education as “an entitlement” in 2011.

Even in the face of the school shootings in Newtown, which exemplified to most Americans the heroics and commitment of educators – some of whom were “educrats” that even served as human shields to first graders – some Texas lobbyists and activists have chosen a decidedly different tack by instead demonizing educators and their work. Their false narratives and attempts to brand public education negatively are being embraced by some state lawmakers, leaving them less apt to hear the voice of these experts.

I was very dismayed to see this trend continue when I received a copy of a message sent from a Tarrant County state legislator to a local constituent. The constituent is a public school administrator with nearly 30 years of experience in schools. The campus administrator was expressing to an elected official (via his legislative Facebook page) the need to restore the $5.4 billion in cuts to public education. The educator’s message stated to the lawmaker that it’s time to restore cuts to public education because of overcrowded classrooms and the number of new students to the system (those that were left unfunded for the first time in modern history).

I’m sorry to report that the DFW-area lawmaker that responded to this message, a freshman that touts “family values” as one of his core issues, didn’t seem highly concerned with the impact education cuts have had on families. His legislative actions since taking office have been mostly focused on protecting companies from aspects of “Obamacare” rather than focusing on the immediate pain of education budget cuts to Texas children and families – an issue that most polls say is one of the most critical problems facing the state according to Texans.

Rather than welcoming input from a person on the front lines with an understanding of the situation on the ground that likely surpasses his own, the lawmaker chose a different approach. He seemed to dismiss the educator’s request, indicating that such opinions are “easy to say” for an administrator with a high pay status. He went on to suggest that if the administrator wanted to be taken “seriously” about school funding issues, she should come to the lawmaker’s office or call him. (Legislator, I’ll be accompanying this campus administrator on her visit to your office. As a mother and PTA member, will you take my views “seriously?” If not, whose views actually matter to you?)

Shame on this legislator and all of those that dismiss the opinions of the real experts – educators and parents! When did disrespecting the opinions of educators (who also happen to be Texans, constituents, and taxpayers) become de rigueur? Does this lawmaker (whose district includes five DFW-area school districts, mostly comprised of the large districts of Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD and Grapevine-Colleyville ISD) feel the same about the opinions of all of his constituents who happen to be employed by school districts? I’m sure the voters employed by HEBISD and GCISD would be interested to know that their input isn’t valued by this legislator. When did the merit of a constituent’s opinion become correlated with their profession and level of pay? When did lawmakers decide that they don’t need the input of experts when making decisions that impact all of us?  Personally, as a freshman legislator I’d likely welcome to the input of a person who has served on the front lines for nearly three decades.

Why don’t lawmakers like this feel the same?

I’d like to chalk up the legislator’s disrespectful response as a rookie mistake made by a freshman, but unfortunately, we’ve seen this type of attitude become more prevalent among lawmakers in recent sessions. These are the types of legislators who hold in contempt the opinions of the educators that serve five million Texas students each year, but don’t hesitate to seek legislation asking them to take up a weapon against a school shooter. These are the types of legislators that proudly pound their chests about Texas’ rosy economic outlook and revenue receipts, yet disrespect educators, parents, and students by refusing to restore last session’s unnecessary funding cuts. These are the legislators that need to become a thing of the past – those who stubbornly refuse to acknowledge and address the real issues facing Texas families, as well as the state’s constitutional responsibility to educate Texas children.

Lawmakers like this make it clear that educators and parents need to redouble their efforts. If you’re tired of unresponsive and ill-informed legislators who put ideology and the needs of special interests and lobbyists above your child, let them know. Contact your legislator, weekly if you’re so inclined, and let them know how the budget cuts have impacted your family and child. Visit your legislator and share with them stories of overcrowded classrooms and the essential positions and programs that were cut based on their actions. Email your representative and remind them that Texas has more than enough revenue to restore the funding they wrongly cut in the last legislative session.

As former Lieutenant Governor Bill Ratliff once said, things won’t change until the “mamas” get mad at the legislature. Are you mad? If so, demand more from your representatives. Demand that your voice be heard. And demand that legislators understand what real “family values” look like. Remind them that valuing Texas families includes valuing the public education system and educators that serve them.

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