Stand Up for Your Rights this Legislative Session
By: Mark Wiggins, ATPE Lobbyist
A child of poverty, raised in the remotest corner of the Texas Hill Country, Lyndon Johnson was one of just five classroom teachers to rise to the office of president of the United States. Little surprise, then, that some of his best advice was delivered in terms even the most hard-headed youngster could easily understand.
“There are plenty of recommendations on how to get out of trouble cheaply and fast,” Johnson was once quoted as saying. “Most of them come down to this: Deny your responsibility.”
It’s a warning to avoid shirking duty, which the 85th Texas Legislature may want to consider as they debate a broken school finance system and try to keep schools funded within a budget tight enough to raise a blister.
Among the bad fixes being put forward this session are proposals to privatize public education through vouchers, such as education savings accounts (ESAs). Vouchers deny the core responsibility enshrined in the Texas Constitution to educate every child. To skirt opposition, voucher proponents are using “A through F” accountability grades to promote the myth that public schools are failing. Worse yet, they’re attacking teachers directly by banning their ability to support professional organizations such as ATPE through payroll deduction. Now more than ever, it’s up to educators to stand up for their rights and the rights of every child entrusted to them.
This session, ATPE has deployed a powerful new set of tools that enable us to combine our voices in a way lawmakers can’t ignore. Advocacy Central lets you easily communicate with your legislators about bills that affect your career and students. After activating your account online at atpe.org and linking your account to your membership number, you can quickly and easily support our efforts at the Capitol.
We can magnify our voice even more through phone calls, personal letters, and visits to legislative offices—often the most powerful way to influence lawmakers and easier than you think. The key is to be calm, respectful, and prepared. Every type of communication can be broken down into a few simple steps:
1. Identify yourself as a constituent and educator.
2. State the bill or issue you’re calling about and explain why it’s important to you. Make sure they know why this is personal.
Example: “I’m concerned about Senate Bill 13, the ban on payroll deduction. It’s the safest and most convenient way for me to be a member of my professional organization, which is not a union. I feel like we’re being attacked for being teachers, and it’s unfair.”
3. Ask for a commitment.
Example: “Will you oppose Senate Bill 13?”
4. Thank them and leave your contact info.
For those who can drive to Austin, you also have opportunities to testify at committee hearings, although public testimony is typically limited to three minutes and may occur in the middle of the night. Our blog at TeachtheVote.org combined with Advocacy Central on atpe.org are great resources for updates on upcoming bill hearings, plus the latest news and talking points.
This is a session of unprecedented attacks on educators, and it will take an unprecedented show of force from our side. ATPE’s lobbyists are working hard to set up the ball—and the strength of our members will drive it home.
President Johnson might have put it another way: It’s no time to sit on our spurs.