Many legislators have reason to fear the teacher vote, but only if teachers vote for education
State Sen. Paul Bettencourt of Houston apparently is scared of teachers. He is scared, at least, of what teachers can do if they vote and vote for education. So, he has taken the first step in what may become a widespread effort to intimidate educators from going to the polls this year.
Last month, Bettencourt asked Attorney General Ken Paxton for a legal opinion on what school districts can and can’t do to encourage employees and students of voting age to register to vote and go to the polls.
He was responding to efforts of a nonpartisan group called Texas Educators Vote that is solicting the support of school districts to drum up a large voting turnout among educators. The campaign, whose partners include the Texas Association of School Boards and other pro-public education groups, also has drafted an oath that educators can sign promising to cast their ballots “in support of the more than 5.4 million Texas school children.”
Texas Educators Vote makes clear, in detail on its website, that public money and other school district resources, including equipment and email, cannot be used to advocate for or against a specific issue or candidate. But it points out that the 657,000 teachers and other employees of Texas school districts can make a positive difference in education policy if they vote — and vote in the best interests of their students and their professions – in the party primaries and the general election.
That is what Sen. Bettencourt fears and is trying to discourage. Bettencourt may be in a politically “safe” district. But he knows that educators who vote in the best interests of education won’t be voting for him and like-minded colleagues who persist in under-funding public schools, promoting private school vouchers and wasting resources and classroom time on high-stakes standardized testing.
“I don’t think everyone wants educators to go out and vote, which I find disappointing,” Laura Yeager, the Texas Educators Vote director, told The Texas Tribune.
As Blake G. Powell, president of Friends of Texas Public Schools, noted on the Texas Educators Vote website, “Elections are determined by who shows up, and your vote could determine the future of public education.”
Unfortunately, in recent years, many educators have not been showing up to vote, and many others have been voting against their own and their students’ best interest. That needs to change, or Texas public school students will remain among the most under-funded and over-tested in the country. And their parents will continue to see their local property taxes rise, and Texas teachers will continue to be significantly underpaid.
Texas lawmaker questions education group’s tactics for getting out the vote