Voting along party lines won’t work … educators must do their homework

The Classroom Teacher, summer 2014

“Are you a Republican or a Democrat?” It’s almost a loaded question these days. Politics has become so polarizing that some people avoid talking about the issues with friends or family.

Many a longstanding relationship has been damaged via Facebook. (Tip: You can just “hide” your old high school pals and their political rants; you don’t have to unfriend them!) And mentioning party affiliation in the wrong company can be the social equivalent of admitting to one of the seven deadly sins.

But even as politics becomes more polarized, the partisan lines in education have begun to blur a bit. In the 2013 session, legislators in both parties voted for bad bills that would erode teacher legal protections. But then legislators in both parties supported public education by defeating private school vouchers, and legislators in both parties supported teachers by opposing attempts to change state law so that teacher appraisals could be tied to student test performance. (Unfortunately, this may still happen due to the agreement the Texas commissioner of education made with the U.S. Department of Education in exchange for a waiver from certain NCLB requirements. See "A closer look at the proposed teacher evaluation system.")

So, teachers and others who want their votes to support public education can’t simply look at whether a candidate is a Republican or a Democrat. They must do their homework before the elections to find out how the candidates are likely to vote on issues important to them.

Important education issues in 2015

TCTA expects the following issues to be some of the biggest in the 2015 legislative session. When reading up on the candidates, see what they’ve said about these issues or how they’ve voted on them in the past:

  1. Privatization/deregulation – There will be more attempts to make various end runs around the public education system and state education laws. Private school vouchers, further expansion of charter schools and virtual education, and proposals allowing takeovers of public schools by charters or private entities (resulting in losses of teacher/student/parent legal protections) could all be on the table.
    Does the candidate support these kinds of education “reform”?
  2. Funding – As always, money will be an issue. In addition to the need to continue to restore the cuts from the 2011 legislative session and the need to increase state funding to help with enrollment growth, there is a great need for more funding for health insurance — both to help with premiums for active public school employees and to keep TRS-Care (retiree health insurance) solvent.
    Does the candidate support more or less funding for public schools and teachers?
  3. Discipline – Efforts to crack down on student misbehavior and violence may collide with efforts to restrict teachers’ ability to remove disruptive students from the classroom. While no one wants to endanger teachers and students, some interest groups and legislators are increasingly concerned about the disproportionate numbers of special education and minority students suspended or referred to alternative education programs, and some “fixes” would place heavier discipline burdens on teachers.
    How does the candidate stand on teachers’ right to remove disruptive students from class?
  4. Testing – Legislators may try to lessen the influence of standardized tests, even as the commissioner of education and others ramp it up with the proposed teacher evaluation system, for example. Legislators could consider proposals to further reduce the number of standardized tests, incorporate other factors in determining campus and district ratings, and determine to what extent, if at all, student test performance will be used for teacher evaluations and salaries.
    What is the candidate’s position on the prevalence of standardized testing and its role in school and teacher accountability?

TexasTeachersVote.org – your homework helper

The 2013 Legislature considered some of these issues, so you will be able to see how candidates running for re-election voted on them in the past. TCTA has tracked and published such candidates’ voting records on TexasTeachersVote.org.

There you can also look up which candidates are running in your Texas House and Senate districts, and you can learn how those candidates responded (or if they chose not to respond) to a TCTA survey that asked them for their stances on key education issues.

You’ll also find candidate contact information and links to their campaign websites, Facebook pages and Twitter profiles.

TCTA delegates who attended the association's state convention in Fort Worth in June 2014 had the opportunity to hear directly from both major party candidates for Texas governor and from the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. Watch videos of the candidates’ speeches.

Other ways to be an informed voter

Of course, attending candidate forums, reading newspaper articles, and personally contacting candidates’ campaign offices are also ways that voters can become better informed. If ever in doubt, never hesitate to simply ask candidates where they stand on the issues.

Supporting pro-education candidates

Campaign season goes into full swing in the fall. If you want to support a certain candidate, contact the campaign office to offer your assistance. TCTA does not endorse candidates, so please offer your assistance as an individual, not as a TCTA representative. Volunteering is a smart way to make yourself known and lay the groundwork for a good working relationship with the person running for office and his/her staff.

If you can’t volunteer, support the candidate by informing colleagues, family and friends of the candidate’s pro-education positions and direct them to the candidate’s website. But most important, head to the polls and cast your vote on Election Day!

Important dates

General Election: Nov. 4, 2014
Early Voting: Oct. 20-31, 2014
Mail in voter registration by: Oct. 4
, 2014