Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators
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Amid Uncertainty, One Thing Is Clear: Your Vote Matters

What if your school closed for spring break and never opened back up again? What if you suddenly had to teach all your classes from home on a laptop? What if the STAAR test were simply cancelled?

A year ago, these what-ifs would have seemed like impossible scenarios. Now they are a shared experience for many ATPE members. The changes that happened practically overnight because of COVID-19 have tested your mettle in ways you never imagined when you first entered the education profession. Most of the changes have been difficult and unwelcome—with cancellation of the STAAR test being one possible exception.

Educators were dauntless in facing the sudden disruption of the 2019-20 school year. You turned your kitchen tables into classrooms. You spent hours overhauling lesson plans and developing a new breed of “homework” for your students (and their frazzled, teleworking parents). You held drive-by celebrations for graduating seniors. You accomplished all these unforeseen tasks with a smile, often while dealing with your own behind-the-scenes challenges: caring for your stuck-at-home families, staying connected to isolated older relatives, and facing the trauma of a deadly new disease within your own household or circle of friends.

Uncertain Future

Navigating government orders that often conflicted and changed on a weekly basis and worrying about long-term impacts of the pandemic made this a summer of disquiet. How do we provide a safe learning environment for students and accommodations for school staff who are worried about their health? How do we modify our school calendars in a way that will make it easier for us to manage similar disruptions in the future, if necessary? How do we help those students who have fallen further behind?

As we start the school year under such still strange and shifting circumstances, many questions remain unanswered. Amid few certainties, we know the coronavirus pandemic has strained our economy and our public education system, and there will be an enduring need for added resources and creative solutions to the novel problems we are now facing in our public schools. Whether we like it or not, education in the time of COVID-19 is a more expensive undertaking. ATPE is gearing up for a difficult 2021 legislative session in which budget writers must attempt to address these expanded needs with markedly decreased revenue.

The education budget cuts of 2011 are still fresh on the minds of many of you. It took years to fill that hole, which is starting to look like a small indentation compared to the crater in front of us today. Fortunately, we’ve seen a modest shift in elected officials’ attitudes toward the education profession in the last few years, slowly turning away from the toxic rhetoric and strong-arm tactics of groups that want to defund our public education system, muzzle teachers, and hand out taxpayer dollars with no strings attached to unregulated private and home schools. Whether that trend continues depends entirely on the votes you cast in 2020 at every level of the ballot.

The Power of Your Vote

As local, state, and federal governments scramble to find solutions to problems that were unimaginable only a year ago, you are seeing the power of your elected officials. For instance, in recent months Gov. Greg Abbott issued a number of sweeping executive orders, from shutting down schools this spring to restricting certain businesses from opening and requiring Texans to wear masks in many situations. Abbott is not up for reelection this year, but there is no question that voters’ mixed reviews on his handling of the pandemic will be remembered in the 2022 election cycle.

Much of the state’s guidance on when and how to begin the 2020-21 school year left a great deal of discretion to local officials. As a result, school districts tasked with determining their reopening protocols, adopting or readopting calendars, and crafting plans for online and in-person instruction have turned to their locally elected school board trustees and the superintendents hired by those trustees to make such important decisions.

State legislators are another group of elected officials whose judgment will play an enormous role in shaping the future of our schools and how Texas responds to and recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the Texas Legislature will not convene its next regular session until January, planning is already underway, and bills are being drafted as we speak. Those state lawmakers elected by you will be crafting the budget that pays for almost every aspect of your profession (not to mention drawing new electoral maps through redistricting).

At the federal level, members of Congress are determining the flow of federal funds, employees’ rights to sick leave or unemployment benefits, and safety measures. Of course, 2020 is also a presidential election year, and it’s important to remember that the president has not only the power to issue executive orders of his own and to sign or veto federal bills, but also has the ability to appoint officials to powerful posts within his cabinet. The U.S. Department of Education, headed by a presidential appointee, will decide whether to grant waivers of rigid testing and accountability requirements and how to dole out federal education funds, for example. The list goes on.

These are trying times. It matters more than ever that you vote in November and in all other elections at the local, state, and national level. All elected officials ultimately answer to you, the voter. Use your power to elect the people who will do right by you, your families, and your students. ATPE’s Advocacy Website, our comprehensive advocacy website, makes it easy for Texas voters, educators, and parents to:
• Read the public education news that matters most.
• Research the education platforms of political candidates and elected officials.
• Decide which candidates will make public education a top priority.
• Stay informed through regular blog posts and email updates.

You can also follow legislative action as it happens through the @TeachtheVote and lobbyist Twitter feeds.

Author: Jennifer Mitchell, ATPE Governmental Relations Director