Month: October 2020

Don’t be intimidated by voting in a pandemic or by Texas’ obstacles to democracy

Judging from the record turnout during the first two weeks of early voting in Texas, a person who didn’t know better may think our state goes out of its way to make voting as easy as possible. That person, unfortunately, would be wrong.

Texans are voting early and in large numbers not because state leaders have made it easy, but in spite of the fact that state leaders have made it as difficult as they think they can get away with. As you may have read, a study conducted by three universities has concluded it is more difficult to vote in Texas than in any of the other 49 states, considering factors such as an early voting registration deadline, tight restrictions on mail-in voting and a photo ID requirement to counter the mostly fictitious threat of “voter fraud.”

Consequently, our rate of voter participation traditionally has been one of the lowest in the country, but that may be changing this year, and you can be part of the change.

Texans who value democracy are not intimidated. They are voting early and in record numbers because most of them, I hope, are determined to end our national nightmare and put a responsible, adult leader in the White House — and elect more pro-public education candidates to Congress and the Texas Legislature.

Gov. Greg Abbott extended the early voting period, a sensible move that cost him a lot of grief from the worst democracy-abusers in his own party, but otherwise he has enforced Texas’ hardline stance.

But there was one pro-election victory this week. The Texas Supreme Court upheld Harris County’s use of 10 drive-thru voting stations to ease voting congestion in the Houston area during the early voting period and on Election Day, Nov. 3. Anyone registered to vote in Harris County is eligible for this option. Find out where and how you can vote from your car here.

Despite the unnecessary restrictions, voting in a pandemic can be easily accomplished by most people. With a little patience and a few safeguards, such as wearing a mask and keeping your social distance, you should find the experience as safe as going to the grocery store, perhaps safer. The last day of early voting is this Friday, Oct. 30. That gives you five more days to vote early and avoid what may be even longer lines on Election Day.

So, grab your photo ID and your mask, take a few relatives and friends who haven’t voted yet and go Vote Education First. You will be doing yourself, your children, your students and a lot of other people a big service. And you will be strengthening our democracy.

TSTA’s endorsed candidates.

Clay Robison

Unlike many educators, Sen. John Cornyn is ready for retirement

If educators and other Texas voters succeed in electing M.J. Hegar to the U.S. Senate to replace President Trump’s lapdog, John Cornyn, the deposed senator would have an early start on financial security in retirement. Even while he receives his $174,000 Senate pay, he already has been collecting state retirement payments worth more than the average salary of a Texas teacher.

I don’t have an up-to-date figure, but eight years ago he was receiving more than $62,000 a year in combined annual payments from the Judicial Retirement System of Texas, the Employees Retirement System of Texas and the Texas County and District Retirement System, according to a 2013 report in The Dallas Morning News.

The average teacher pay in Texas is about $57,000, and most educator pensions are nowhere near that much. Remember, Cornyn has consistently supported Trump policies, including the president’s pressure on governors to reopen schools prematurely during a deadly pandemic, which has forced many teachers to resign to protect their health or take early retirement, which they can’t really afford.

The disparity in retirement security stems from the fact that the elected officials who create the public pension systems are more willing to take care of each other than provide financial security for educators. Before he was elected to the Senate in 2002, Cornyn held a succession of state offices, including Texas attorney general, a seat on the Texas Supreme Court and a state district judgeship in San Antonio.

Once he leaves the Senate, Cornyn will be eligible for a federal pension to add to his state pensions, and he can qualify for lifetime health insurance.

At some point, Cornyn also will begin receiving full Social Security payments, unlike many educators who are penalized by two Social Security provisions, the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset, which Congress has refused to change.

That is another reason for Texas voters to change senators.

Watch M.J Hegar’s message to TSTA members.

Clay Robison

The Legislature increased school funding because of educators, with no help from the Texas Supreme Court

TSTA has not endorsed a candidate in the race for chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, but people who are concerned about public education should be reminded that the incumbent, Nathan Hecht, refused to order more school funding the last time the court had a chance to address school finance.

This was in 2016, when the high court overturned a ruling by a state district judge who had ordered the Legislature to make significant improvements in how public education was funded.

With Hecht participating, the high court admitted that the school finance system was awful. But the judicial hand-wringing – a hollow attempt to express empathy for school children and parents — was meaningless because the court concluded the system didn’t violate the state constitution. That took the justices’ political allies in the governor’s office and the Legislature off the hook to make improvements.

Sure enough, the Legislature did nothing to improve education funding during the 2017 session. Only after educators voted in large numbers in 2018 and replaced a dozen anti-education House members and two senators with education friendly successors did Gov. Greg Abbott and the Legislature make improved education funding a priority during the 2019 session.

They increased funding by several billion dollars for classroom programs and teacher pay raises, a nice down payment on real school finance reform.

This week, I noticed a newspaper editorial endorsing Hecht for reelection, suggesting in a very confusing way that Hecht and the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a bad school finance system had somehow led to the bipartisan decision to increase school funding three years later.

Don’t bother to try to figure out that line of thought because the conclusion is wrong. The Supreme Court obviously had nothing to do with the Legislature’s decision to finally tackle school finance reform. The Legislature improved school funding in 2019 only because educators voted in large numbers in 2018, threw out some legislative obstructionists and replaced them with pro-education lawmakers.

Educators and parents also need a Texas Supreme Court that will hold the governor’s and the Legislature’s feet to the fire on funding and other critical education issues. Hecht has shown he won’t do that, but his main opponent, Amy Clark Meachum, will.

Meachum is an experienced civil district court judge and the mother of three public school students. She knows that 5.5 million school kids need more than a court’s empathy.

Clay Robison