Yes, it can get worse

The antigovernment activists who couldn’t care less about the future of Texas’ public schools smell blood in the water. Fresh off their success in winning deep budget cuts in the class room, health care and other public services from the governor and the legislative majority last year, they have their sights set on even deeper cuts in 2013. They outlined some of them in a news conference at the state Capitol this week. (See the link below.)

The only thing standing between them and more damage to a host of public services that the vast majority of Texans consider essential is the upcoming round of legislative elections, starting with the party primaries on May 29. If the 2010 legislative elections are any indication – and they will be these rightwing ideologues will be out in force, intimidating candidates, playing on prejudices and misleading uninformed voters with inflated tales of government waste.

Their goal is to all but dismantle state government as we know it. The end result for education would be more profit for private school operators and charters and a weakened system of public schools for the vast majority of Texas children. Teachers in traditional public schools would continue to lose jobs and suffer pay cuts, and class sizes would continue to grow.

Teachers, most of whom don’t qualify for Social Security, also would be forced to give up their stable, defined benefit pensions for riskier 401(k)s. The Teacher Retirement System of Texas is one of the soundest public pension systems in the country, and school employee members contribute a big chunk of the premiums, but it is in the crosshairs of those who belittle public service.

Talmadge Heflin, a former legislator and now guru of the shrinkgovernment Texas Public Policy Foundation, is among those promoting the change from defined benefit pensions. Interestingly enough, Heflin, who had a 22year career in the Texas House, enjoys a very nice defined benefit pension from the state, something that pays much more than the $600 a month he got as a legislator.

“Raising taxes and seeking new revenue sources is off the table for Texas taxpayers and voters,” said antigovernment rabblerouser Michael Quinn Sullivan. He speaks for a vocal group of Texas taxpayers and voters. The group is smaller than Sullivan would have you believe, but its members will turn out and vote in legislative races.
Although loud and active, the antigovernment crowd is swamped in numbers by teachers and other public education employees alone. Add to them the additional Texans who depend upon or value public health care programs and other services that were harmed by last year’s budget cuts, and you have the potential to change the electoral math in many legislative districts.

But numbers have to be accompanied by action. People have to get motivated to educate themselves about their legislators and legislative candidates, learn how to differentiate between the real supporters of public education and the lipservice imposters – and they have to vote.

Because of lawsuits over redistricting, the primaries have been delayed until May 29, one day after Memorial Day. Early voting will start May 14. This is a poor time to have an election, when many people will be busy with the end of school and beginning of summer vacation. But the antipublic education, antipublic services crowd will turn out to vote. So must educators and everyone else who values the public schools and the other critical services that state government provides.


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