“Hard-working Texans are at the forefront of our agenda this legislative session,” Gov. Greg Abbott declared in the first-ever State of the State address delivered from a chemical-processing technology firm in Lockhart.
Sounds good. But is it true?
How about the hard-working Texans we call school teachers, who have heroically worked to protect their students during a deadly pandemic and reinvent the delivery of public education? They haven’t even been given priority for a COVID-19 vaccine, but thousands of them are being forced to risk their health and perhaps their lives in classrooms every day.
So are thousands of bus drivers, cafeteria workers, clerks and other school support staff. They distributed free meals to countless hungry kids while schools were closed over the summer, kept facilities clean and secure and are now risking their health taking many of those children to school and feeding and keeping them safe on campuses.
They haven’t been given priority for a vaccine either. Well, there aren’t enough vaccines to go around yet, the governor may say, and that may be true. But why doesn’t he allow schools to end in-person instruction if local school and health officials believe that is best for safety?
What will the governor be doing for these hard-working educators this session? So far, he hasn’t even promised not to cut funding to school districts over attendance losses this spring as the pandemic continues to rage across Texas. Lost funding will cost many educators their jobs.
In his address, Abbott said “we must continue to fund education as we promised,” suggesting he will maintain funding for House Bill 3, the school finance law enacted two years ago. But school districts may need more money than that just to meet the extra pandemic expenses that will end up not being covered by the federal government.
And despite the additional school funding, including teacher pay raises, approved last session, average teacher pay in Texas still trails the national average by $6,500 and per-student funding is an estimated $2,800 behind.
Public schools and educators are essential to Texas’ post-pandemic economic future, but Abbott didn’t even declare public education an emergency item for lawmakers to consider. For that matter, he didn’t declare the pandemic an emergency item either. That designation allows the Legislature to give an issue expedited treatment, but it often has more political than practical impact.
The governor did put an emergency tag on the expansion of broadband internet access, something that has been a major need for many schools and students seeking remote instruction during the pandemic.
The other designated emergencies are conservative political priorities of the governor, including providing civil liability to businesses affected by COVID-related legal claims. This proposal could help some hard-working small business owners, but it also could be abused to deprive hard-working educators and other consumers of judicial relief to which that are entitled.
Abbott also declared election integrity an emergency, even though election fraud has been shown time and again to play an inconsequential role in the American political process, including in the recent presidential election. A lot of hard-working Texans of both parties, including the governor, know the truth, but the governor still is playing what can be a dangerous political game.