It is no secret that Texas is suffering a devastating drought. According to the Texas Comptroller’s report, our lakes and rivers are receding, our grass is browning, our crops are dying, and as a result Texans are losing billions of dollars in both personal income and tax revenue. The situation is pretty bleak. But with the advent of the spring season, we can only hope for some rain.
It shouldn’t be a secret that the Texas public education system is also in a drought. We don’t need a report to tell us what we already know about education. In the current crisis, those teachers yet to be laid off are left to manage larger classrooms with fewer resources. Students do not have equal access to a quality education and are increasingly disengaged with learning how to take standardized tests. The school-to-prison-pipeline creates wards of the state that drain our already anemic budget. As a result, every child who fails to obtain a diploma loses the opportunity to maximize her personal income and the state loses the opportunity to maximize its tax revenue. The situation is pretty bleak. There appears to be no hope of relief.
But the clouds are gathering:
- Three years ago, the President’s administration created an innovative approach to education reform called, “Race to the Top” which would allow states to compete for federal funds for education. Texas was eligible to receive up to $700 million which Perry turned down to lay the groundwork for his failed anti-Washington presidential candidacy.
- In March of 2010, the Republican-controlled Texas Board of Education politicized the social science curriculum and altered the history of Darwinism and the separation of church and state. Additionally, there was some effort to weaken the historical prominence of certain African-American, Latino, and female civil rights leaders. Unfortunately, Betty Friedan, co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and author of The Feminine Mystique, was cut from history.
- Two years ago, Rep. Lloyd Doggett helped to secure $831 million in federal dollars to pay for 14,500 teacher jobs in Texas and he tried to pass an amendment to ensure that the money would go only to public education since the Governor and Republican-controlled Texas Legislature have a history of using federal money for education to offset state spending in other areas of the budget. The amendment was later repealed by Republicans.
- In the last legislative session, the Republicans (who won a commanding number of seats in the Texas Legislature and rendered the Democrats impotent), hacked massive cuts into the budget resulting in greater teacher layoffs and fewer resources available to students than in years past.
- As a result, last March 13,000 protesters met in Austin to protest those cuts to public education in what was likely one of the biggest Capitol rallies in state history.
Do you see a pattern yet? It’s natural to deduce that Democrats have tried to irrigate the barren wasteland that Republicans have created. But even some Republicans have had enough.
Last month, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Robert Scott criticized the current Texas education policy for its overemphasis on standardized testing system and its inability to accurately evaluate teacher or student performance.
Lastly, there is the school finance litigation which started in 1984 with the Edgewood School District and has been ricocheted between the Republican Supreme Court and Republican-dominated Legislature. Now the next round of school finance litigation is back. There are 5 different lawsuits that will be consolidated into one case in October 2012, one month before November elections. The timing is too impeccable to not seize the moment.
As water is to life, education is to democracy.
The stage is set to flood the gates and make public education the issue in Texas for the November 2012. Although the economy will take center stage in most states, for a variety of reasons the economy in Texas has faired better than other parts of the country. As Democrats, we should devise a strategy to elect State Senators, State Representatives, and State Board of Education Commissioners that will prioritize education. As Texans, we need a strategy to hold Republicans accountable for their irresponsibility.
What could that strategy look like? Stay tuned for Part 2.