Texas Democrats Fight for Public Education in Series of New Ads Amid School Voucher Push | Dallas Observer


Texas Democrats Double Down on Defending Public Ed

Texas Democrats are pushing hard for public ed.
Texas Democrats are pushing hard for public ed. Photo by CDC on Unsplash
As the battle over the future of Texas’ K–12 education system intensifies, certain public school proponents aren’t afraid to hit below the belt.

The advocacy group Texas Public Heritage released an ad earlier this month that calls into question the masculinity of Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath. The spoof spot touts a fictional supplement, “BIA-MAN,” as the three officials flash on screen.

“You work hard, but sometimes you just can’t finish the job. If you’ve got the power to do what it takes but can’t seem to make it happen, try once-daily BIA-MAN, a uniquely engineered blend of guts and integrity to help you keep your promises to fully fund our schools, pay our teachers more — the $10,000 raise,” the ad’s narrator states.

As an image of a grimacing Abbott appears, the narrator continues: “You’ve been in charge; now it’s time for you to take charge. Most Texas men know how to get it done. For everyone else, the answer is clear: BIA-MAN.” Texas is one of several conservative states attempting to reshape curricula in public schools. Republicans here have sought to ban tenure from higher ed, in addition to diversity, equity and inclusion policies. They’ve also pushed for so-called parental choice via school vouchers, which means that money normally sent to public schools is instead diverted to support tuition for private institutions.

The state of education further seems to be in flux as some districts consider shifting to a four-day school week.

But even though Lone Star Democrats failed to move the needle much to the left during last year’s midterms, they certainly haven’t stopped advocating for public education. The way they see it, lawmakers should step up to the plate to prevent Texas’ public education system from crumbling.

"I don't think it is alarmist to acknowledge that many of these proposals are directly targeted at undercutting the public school system." – Dr. Chloe Latham Sikes, IDRA

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Dallas County Democrats Vice Chair Kardal Coleman said his party hopes to see a spike in teacher pay this session. Austin state Rep. James Talarico has filed a bill that would mandate a raise of $15,000; Coleman argues that such a boost would relieve strain from teachers — some of whom have to work multiple jobs — and allow them to better focus on educating kids.

Coleman also thinks that part of the state's historic budget surplus should be reinvested in grade schools, as well as historically Black colleges and universities. And when it comes to so-called parental choice?

“At the Dallas County Democratic Party, we're not afraid to name the thing, the thing,” he said. “So we know that these vouchers are an attack against public school students, and then furthermore, we know who makes up that populace of public school students. We know those are primarily Black and brown children in the urban center, and then we'll talk about rural Texas because these are working class families who oftentimes cannot afford the choice to have those other options.”

There are a number of strong public schools in Dallas County that the party wants to ensure are fully funded, Coleman said. The Dallas Dems are reminding folks that the last day to register to vote in the May local elections is April 6.

Liberals at the state level are also doubling down on their public-ed defense.

The Texas Democratic Party shared a fiery response to Abbott’s state of the state address this month. The video features a former Lubbock ISD teacher who claims that she quit because she realized she “could no longer deal with Republicans putting a gag order on everything teachers are trying to teach.”
Chloe Latham Sikes, deputy director of policy for the Intercultural Development Research Association, pointed out another recent education trend: ever-expanding classroom censorship. Take the 2021 session, for example: Republican lawmakers effectively outlawed so-called critical race theory from being taught in K–12 classes, which districts said wasn't happening in the first place.

Many of the censorship bills have contributed to a “really hostile climate in schools,” Latham Sikes said, particularly for queer kids and students of color. She also noted that there’s been a spike in teacher turnover as of late.

Holding onto teachers has been somewhat tricky these days. More than 44% of new educators ditch the field within five years, according to Vox.

The way Latham Sikes sees it, it’s important to prioritize safe learning environments, full funding and good workforce practices in schools. Some bills winding their way through the Legislature could do real harm.

“I don't think it's alarmist to acknowledge that many of these proposals are directly targeted at undercutting the public school system and how it serves over 5.5 million students, and that is of deep concern,” she said. “We saw how important our public schools were during the pandemic — in being hubs for community information, medical information ... providing food, digital access, I mean, really serving as community hubs — and going after these institutions, it directly affects students and families.”
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Simone Carter is a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer who graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter

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