Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators

Three Easy Steps for Turning Anger into Action at the Capitol

Three Easy Steps for Turning Anger into Action at the Capitol

Your Voice | By Monty Exter, ATPE Governmental Relations Director

I can identify the moment when, for me, the last vestiges of hope that the current cohort of politicians might do the right thing by students and educators died. Toward the end of the second special session, the Senate unanimously added a one-time bonus for teachers to the property tax relief bill. Shortly thereafter, a group of House members called for adding an even more significant school funding measure to the bill. Don’t get me wrong: It was clear Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wasn’t signifying a newfound priority on teacher pay. He was using teacher funding to goad House leadership into moving on his property tax bill, but he was doing so without tying the funding to a private school voucher—and at least some House members were seeing his bet and raising him. Then, the final property tax bill came out, and education funding was nowhere to be seen. Disappointing, but the real kicker was when we heard—on good authority—that the provision unanimously added by the Senate had been removed because Gov. Greg Abbott made it clear he would not sign a property tax bill that included teacher pay or education funding.

Why, might you ask? Because he wants to maintain teacher pay and education funding as a carrot to pass a voucher in the fall.

If it wasn’t before, it should be clear now the governor, lieutenant governor, and those following their lead do not prioritize public education, public educators, or the students they serve. They have zero intention of passing any bills that fund public education except as a bribe to pass vouchers. If that doesn’t make you angry, then I don’t know what would.

How can we translate our anger into constructive action? We can take three simple steps.

1. Clearly communicate our expectations to elected officials.

What does this look like? First, it is imperative to work from the understanding that your individual elected officials, your House member and your senator, do not have the ability to pass any legislation on their own. They can file legislation, offer amendments, and vote yes or no. That’s it. If we want to hold elected officials accountable in the upcoming special session—when Abbott and Patrick clearly do not intend to accept a teacher pay raise without a voucher attached—we must tell legislators we expect them to file bills that would provide education funding and an educator pay raise without a voucher. We expect them to vote for providing education funding and an educator pay raise without a voucher. And we absolutely expect them to vote against any bill or amendment that does contain a voucher. If they, as our representatives, do those things, and Abbott, Patrick, and the the pro-voucher minority insist on vouchers anyway, those elected officials who stood with us will still have earned our support. Enacting Step One is our best hope of keeping public schools public. It also sets the stage to shift from spending our time working to defeat bad bills to working to pass good ones.

As I have said a lot recently, elections have consequences. Steps Two and Three will help ensure those consequences are in our favor in the future, as opposed to the 88th session where we squandered a $32 billion surplus by spending an entire session pushing vouchers.

2. Give to the ATPE Political Action Committee (ATPE-PAC).

The simple truth is elections cost money. If we want to keep the support of current legislators who prioritize public education and grow their ranks, then we must help them fund successful campaigns. We are not talking about big dollar donations. If the majority of ATPE members gave as little as $5 a month, we would have one of the most formidable PACs in the state. It is hard to overstate the psychological impact this would have on legislators as they approach issues important to educators. Think of it as a small investment in yourself and your students that could return huge dividends.

3. Vote loudly.

What does this mean? Educators have too often been told not to seek out trouble, not to stir the pot, and not to talk about political issues. And while care should be taken in delivering curriculum, the problem with that advice overall is that public education is a political issue. It doesn’t have to be—and shouldn’t be—a partisan issue, but it is absolutely a political issue. And we do ourselves a disservice by not talking to everyone we can about the importance of prioritizing public education at the ballot box. We ourselves need to base our votes on public education issues, but that is not enough. If we want a Legislature that prioritizes public education, we must tell our family, friends, and neighbors which candidates support our public schools and ask them to vote for them, too.