When he was even younger, the young George P. Bush taught for a while in an inner city high school in Miami. Presumably, he experienced many of the challenges that teachers face each day in the classroom and, you would think, learned to appreciate the vital role that teachers play in trying to prepare the next generation for a productive future.
But maybe the education of this former, short-term teacher came up a bit short. I say that because Bush, now a candidate for Texas land commissioner, delivered a direct attack on teacher unions at a campaign appearance in Richmond last week. He said he will not be afraid to take on “the teacher unions who are deteriorating public education,” according to a TSTA staffer who attended the event.
This was a political shot designed to appeal to the school privatization advocates and anti-public service zealots who dominate the Republican primary in which Bush is a candidate. And, it was a direct slap at the teachers whom he purports to admire, the teachers who are trying to save public schools from those privateers and ideologues.
In case you need a reminder, George P. is the nephew of former President and Texas Gov. George W. Bush. He is the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who advanced a number of dubious school privatization schemes in the Sunshine State and continues to beat the drums for ideas to divert tax dollars from public classrooms to corporate pockets.
Speaking to a group of high school students in a conference at the University of Texas at Austin in 2011 – before he became a candidate for office — George P. Bush endorsed the school budget cuts that the legislative majority enacted that year. He said, in essence, that laying off teachers was better than raising taxes to cure a revenue shortfall.
“There will probably be some teachers that are let go,” he said then. And, there were.
About 11,000 teachers – among about 25,000 school employees – lost their jobs in the 2011-12 school year alone, cramming thousands of students into overcrowded classrooms.
This year, the Legislature restored about $4 billion of the $5.4 billion that was cut two years ago, and schools are beginning to recover. But the struggle against an inadequate and inequitable school finance system continues.
The office of Texas land commissioner helps administer oil and gas revenues from state leases that feed the Permanent School Fund. But other than that, the office has little, if anything, to do with setting education policy.
Why Bush saw fit to attack teachers – when you attack teacher unions, you attack teachers – may seem a little puzzling, until you realize how well that line played with the people who are really busy at the task of “deteriorating public education.”