Richard Wiggins is the state president of the Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE), Texas’ largest network of educators. We are pleased to bring you this op-ed about the importance of this election for Texas teachers.
It’s Time for Teachers to Vote Their Profession
By Richard Wiggins, ATPE State President
Most Texans are ready for the November election to be over. But too much is at stake for educators to sit it out. For starters, per-pupil funding in Texas is among the lowest in the nation—so low that the courts have intervened yet again. It’s no surprise that a district judge recently ruled the state’s school finance system unconstitutional and likened the legislature’s chosen funding mechanism to an illegal state property tax. The lawsuit remains under appeal, but sooner or later, legislators will have to act. At the same time, health insurance programs created for active and retired employees of public schools are critically underfunded.
Meanwhile, the education community continues to struggle under the weight of too much testing.
Thankfully, state legislators did remove a few of the shackles of standardized testing last year by changing our high school graduation requirements. However, rigid testing and accountability requirements still make life unnecessarily difficult for many educators and their students—especially those with disabilities, language barriers or any difficulty learning at the same pace as their classmates.
This election will become a steering mechanism for education reforms in the coming years. Statewide races are of heightened interest in 2014 since we will have a new governor and lieutenant governor for the first time in over a decade. The candidates vying for those two seats have vastly different views on education funding, privatization, testing and accountability. A lot is riding on the outcome when you consider the governor’s power to set legislative agendas and veto bills, coupled with the lieutenant governor’s role in presiding over the Texas Senate.
Considering Texas’ infamously low voter turnout figures, it takes only a small segment of the voting population to produce huge swings in election results. The segment of voters who care about public education is a large group that it could easily determine the outcome. Sadly, it is a group that too often stays home on Election Day. If they go to the polls this time, they could put Texas on a course for positive change.
Richard Wiggins is the state president of the Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE), and a special education department chair in Boerne ISD, where he has served as a member of the Boerne ISD Salary/Budget Committee and as a director for the Boerne Education Foundation. He has also served four terms as an alderman for the city of Fair Oaks Ranch.