Most don’t know it, but thousands of public school teachers and students in Texas are indebted to the late Carlos Truan, a former legislator and public education champion from Corpus Christi who died Tuesday. Sure, as many veteran Capitol insiders will remember, Truan’s speeches could be insufferably long (even in a forum where long is the norm), he sometimes stumbled over personal grudges and sometimes found success in spite of himself. But he was on the right (as in correct) side of most issues, particularly those, such as education, that really mattered to the vast majority of Texans.
He did more than vote for educational improvements. He fought for them, including equity in public education funding and in higher education opportunities. He was instrumental in upgrading universities in his native South Texas by helping to bring them into the University of Texas and Texas A&M systems. Even something as basic as the duty free lunch, which many teachers may now take for granted, was enacted with Truan’s active support.
Our public schools and universities didn’t always get what they needed during Truan’s era, but, even during tough economic times, he and his lawmaking colleagues never contemplated shoving Texas into reverse, which, of course, is what happened last year under the current, backwardthinking legislative majority.
Truan, who ended his 34year legislative career (eight in the House and 26 in the Senate) after the 2001 session, was best known as a champion of bilingual education. In 1969, his first session in the Texas House, he successfully sponsored Texas’ first bilingual education law and fought for most of the rest of his career to improve it.
Truan remembered being spanked by his elementary school principal for speaking Spanish at school. That was during a time when Texas had an “English Only” law that made it a misdemeanor for any teacher or administrator to use a language other than English in school or to prescribe textbooks not printed in English, except in high school foreign language classes. That law was still on the books when Truan first arrived in Austin, and he and his colleagues had to repeal it before they could enact the first bilingual law.
Bilingual education may be more critical now than ever in Texas. About half of the children enrolled in public schools are Hispanic, and many of them speak Spanish at home. Truan knew where Texas schools were headed and tried to prepare them for the future. The current legislative majority has its eyes firmly trained on the past.
Carlos Truan put his heart into the fight to provide every Texas child the opportunity afforded by public education. We honor his life and his work by carrying the fight to those whose policies would deny that opportunity to many Texas children in 2012.