Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators

Fed Up? It's Time to Show Up

FED UP? It's Time to Show Up

By Kate Johanns

We spent most of 2023 in a legislative session. Between the 140-day regular session and four special sessions, the 88th Legislature was open for business for 246 days, or just over two-thirds of the year. And throughout 2023, we repeatedly heard how the Legislature had a historic surplus on its hands—nearly $33 billion when the state comptroller issued the Biennial Revenue Estimate in January 2023. The conditions were ripe for lawmakers to address ongoing funding issues in public education, such as special education; fully fund new school safety measures passed by the Legislature in response to horrific school shootings, including placing an armed security officer on every campus; and address educator recruitment and retention challenges with a pay raise.

But none of that happened.

Are you fed up?

As you deal with inadequate resources and staffing on your campus, the knowledge that school districts are being forced to request waivers on new safety requirements due to lack of funding, and, oh yeah, your even tighter family budget, you’re probably pretty fed up with this lack of action. It’s particularly infuriating when you consider state leaders squandered this historic opportunity to do what’s right for public schools because of politics.

That’s right. Here in Texas, where nearly 60% of counties do not even have an accredited private school, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) was willing to hold the well-being and future of public school students and educators hostage in an attempt to pass a private school voucher program. From the outset, Abbott was clear: No voucher, no public school funding. In addition, he pressured lawmakers to pass such a program by promising that if they didn’t implement a private school voucher “the easy way” (i.e., through legislation), he would do it “the hard way”—by remaking the Legislature during the Texas Republican primary, the point at which nearly every legislative race is decided.

It’s a model successfully employed by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R). In good news, thanks in large measure to the stalwart support for public education displayed by 21 brave Republican House members (more on them on page 19), vouchers didn’t pass “the easy way.” So we are now seeing “the hard way” in action. Abbott is putting the Iowa strategy to work with the help of some out-of-state friends. In December, Abbott received a $6 million donation from Pennsylvania billionaire Jeff Yass, for whom implementing private school vouchers is a priority issue. Abbott is well known for his fundraising abilities, and he raised over $19 million in the last six months of 2023. Per his campaign, the Yass donation is the single largest campaign donation in Texas history.

Abbott himself isn’t even on the ballot in 2024. But the dollars are pouring in from the anti-public schools crowd, who know the public educators who haven’t received raises will never be able to match them dollar for dollar.

This is discouraging—but what public educators can do is vote for the candidates who will not be beholden to Abbott’s privatization plan after receiving the backing of the governor and his wealthy pro-voucher donors.

Let’s look at some numbers.

  • Nearly 750,000 Texans work in our state’s public schools.
  • Our state’s public schools educate more than 5.4 million students. We can safely estimate there are at least 5.4 million parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles in these students’ lives who can cast pro-public education votes.
  • Only 4,111,595 people out of more than 16 million registered voters voted in either 2020 Republican or Democratic primaries.

When you do the math, it becomes clear: Our side might have less funding for campaign signs and advertising, but if the entire public education community shows up to vote in the primaries that will make the difference. We will win.

Ready to show up? Here’s how

If you want to do your part and show up big for public education, take the following steps:

1. Understand your House district.

Gerrymandering during redistricting is one of the ugliest truths about politics. Every 10 years, the U.S. government conducts a census, and based on new population numbers, each state’s legislature redraws its legislative districts. The prevailing party in each state at that time (in Texas’ case, the Republican Party) has the upper hand as districts are redrawn. New district lines are created that will ensure the prevailing party remains in power and that most incumbents are protected. In Texas, this means very few districts are competitive in the November general election when Republicans and Democrats run against one another. In most cases, the person who wins the prevailing party’s March primary will easily win the November election. In many cases, primary winners are unopposed in November, and often when there is a challenger the opposing party has so little support in the district that victory is a foregone conclusion.

This means that if you want to make your vote count, you will vote in the primary of the prevailing party in your district, whether that’s Republican or Democratic. There are very few “swing” districts that could go either way in November. Texas has open primaries, so you don’t have to register as a Republican or a Democrat. Under an open primary system, you choose which party’s primary you want to vote in, and your commitment to that party only lasts through the primary runoff, if there’s one in your district. You may vote for anyone you wish in November and switch to the other party’s primary the next election cycle.

Now, if you view yourself as a diehard Republican or a diehard Democrat, the very idea of voting in the other party’s primary might make your skin crawl. And that’s understandable. But consider this: In the 2016 Republican primary, former Rep. Byron Cook (R–Corsicana)—a strong public education ally—defeated pro-voucher opponent Thomas McNutt by only 225 votes. During the subsequent legislative session, Cook was critical in protecting public employees’ right to pay professional association dues via payroll deduction. Those 225 voters protected your constitutional rights to association and free speech. If they had voted in the Democratic primary, your voice at the Legislature through your professional association would likely have been greatly diluted.

So consider prioritizing strategy over party affiliation and voting in the primary that will actually determine your House representative—the person who will cast important votes about school funding, including your compensation. And prepare yourself for the worst consequence of cross-party primary voting: a lot of junk mail and robocalls.

2. Vote between Feb. 20–March 1 or on March 5.

Barring severe illness or unexpected travel, there are almost no valid excuses for not making it to the polls. Early voting is a two-week period when you can vote ahead of time at the location most convenient to you. There’s almost never a line, and you can fit it in your schedule when it makes sense. On Election Day, you may be required to vote in your specific precinct, and you might face a line. So take our advice: Vote early. Visit to link to your county’s voting information.

3. Ask your friends and family to vote with you.

If we want to make the Texas Legislature a friendly place for public schools, we need our friends and family to help. Ask them to vote with you. This could mean you all go to the polls together, but what it really means is that you’re all voting for pro-public education candidates. ATPE’s contains candidate profiles and voting records you can review to make your decisions. Be sure to write them down; you can’t use a cell phone in a polling place. Make sure your friends and family understand what it means to be pro-public education from the perspective of an actual educator. Nearly all candidates call themselves “pro-public education”—but to be truly pro-public education, a candidate should understand that diverting taxpayer dollars to a private school in the form of a voucher reduces the resources we have to educate public school children in safe learning environments and to staff public schools with certified adequately compensated professionals.

In other words, identify the public education-friendly candidate you’re going to vote for, and ask your friends and family to support you by voting for them, too.

4. Help the ATPE Political Action Committee (ATPE-PAC) support pro-public education candidates and officeholders.

Back to the money: We know ATPE-PAC—the tool ATPE members can use to pool their resources in support of candidates who support our legislative positions—is not likely to receive a single $6 million donation. (Hey, our ATPE Governmental Relations team can dream.) But again, let’s look at the numbers:

  • ATPE has nearly 90,000 members.
  • If each of our 90,000 members invested just $5 a month in ATPE-PAC, we would have $5.4 million in our coffers (when you think about it, that’s about $1 per Texas public school student, which is kind of neat).

This level of funding would allow ATPE-PAC to show further support for pro-public education candidates and officeholders who rely on PAC donations to place radio ads, send out mailers, and pay for yard signs.

If you’ve made it this far in the article, we hope you are fed up but also inspired to show up. (And that your brain doesn’t hurt from all the math.) We can do this—as long as we show up. We must show up for our students, for our families’ financial well-being, and for the future of Texas.

The Raney Amendment Republicans

On Nov. 17, 2023, the Texas House took up House Bill (HB) 1 by House Public Education Committee Chairman Brad Buckley (R–Salado). HB 1 contained a voucher. As debate started, Rep. John Raney (R–Bryan) offered an amendment to strip the voucher from the bill. Seventeen of his fellow House members signed on to the amendment, and when the vote came up, 21 House Republicans and the entire House Democratic caucus voted for it. This killed vouchers for the final time in 2023 and led Buckley to pull his bill from further consideration.

It’s not a stretch to say these 21 Republicans went out on a limb. They took this vote despite months of relentless pressure from their fellow Republicans, Gov. Greg Abbott (R), and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R). They took this vote knowing Abbott would put his campaign war chest to work against them. This map shows those Raney amendment “yes” votes who are up for reelection in the 2024 Republican primary and facing opponents backed by pro-voucher funding.

HD 121: Steve Allison (R–San Antonio)
HD 18: Ernest Bailes (R–Shepherd)
HD 4: Keith Bell (R–Forney)
HD 58: DeWayne Burns (R–Cleburne)
HD 11: Travis Clardy (R–Nacogdoches)
HD 72: Drew Darby (R–San Angelo)
HD 7: Jay Dean (R–Longview)
HD 99: Charlie Geren (R–Fort Worth)
HD 33: Justin Holland (R–Rockwall)
HD 88: Ken King (R–Canadian)
HD 44: John Kuempel (R–Seguin)
HD 71: Stan Lambert (R–Abilene)
HD 60: Glenn Rogers (R–Granbury)
HD 55: Hugh Shine (R–Temple)
HD 1: Gary VanDeaver (R–New Boston)

Reps. Kyle Kacal (R–College Station), Andrew Murr (R–Junction), Four Price (R–Amarillo), John Raney (R–Bryan), and Ed Thompson (R–Pearland) are retiring from the Legislature.