— By BOBBY J. RIGUES and CHARLIE MARTINEZ
The Texas 83rd Legislative Session is in full swing with approximately 6,000 bills filed. Issues involving public schools are frequently found front and center. Straight to the point – our public education, a system where local schools are held accountable by local communities, is seriously being threatened.
On one side, individuals push to privatize public schools by introducing vouchers, taxpayer credits and other dismantling tactics. In summary, the misguided notion of taking public dollars from a system ranked 49th out of 50 states in funding for education and paying children to attend private or for-profit institutions is their solution for the future.
On the other side, the public majority pursues to protect, improve and expand the current system of public education; a system that provides a gifted opportunity for all children, including children of every disability and of every talent.
Our legislators are making positive decisions that protect the value of public education. On April 4, a victory was cheered when the Texas House of Representatives voted 103 to 43 in favor of Amendment No. 95 by Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Corpus Christi, that simply said public money must be used to fund public schools and not private institutions – plain and simple.
When headlines and news clips echoed the House sending a strong message against school vouchers to Sen. Dan Patrick and his privatization supporters, it did not capture the real effort involved by legislators winning battles like this on the floor of debate.
With the House floor as a battlefield, a representative stands and prepares to articulate his or her position. This act of debate; the effort to influence others cannot be overstated.
Rep. Herrero opened the floor and drew the proverbial line in the sand when he said, “we know public education needs to be a priority, and we now know that this budget doesn’t fully restore the funding for public education, so this amendment (No. 95) ensures that no additional monies are diverted from public schools that serve the majority of our students.”
With his position made, several representatives took the floor to briefly support while others strongly challenged his amendment.
Reading the actual transcript of this debate and the dialog between members of the House made us appreciate the word “courage.” Although they were speaking to their peers, the courage and determination these legislators exhibited as they defended public education deserves acknowledgement.
It makes us wonder and appreciate the number of legislators behind the walls of our Capitol that courageously stand up to protect the integrity and value of public education away from our view.
As the dust settled on the House floor and Amendment No. 95 votes were counted, 103 “yeas” were recorded – Republicans and Democrats supporting public dollars for public schools and not for school vouchers or scholarships for private education.
The 43 “nays” included House Representatives Anderson, Bohac, G. Bonnen, Branch, Button, Capriglione, Creighton, Crownover, Dale, J. Davis, Elkins, Fallon, Fletcher, Flynn, Frank, Goldman, Gonzales, Harless, Hughes, Isaac, Phil King, Kleinschmidt, Krause, Larson, Laubenberg, Lavender, Leach, R. Miller, Morrison, Murphy, Parker, Raney, Riddle, Ritter, Sanford, Schaefer, Simmons, Stickland, Taylor, E. Thompson, Toth, E.S. Turner and Zedler.
It is a small but important public school victory – hopefully a cornerstone. There are many other bills and amendments involving vouchers, taxpayer credits, charter schools, as well as legislation on school finance, governance, and mandates to be heard.
We appreciate courage – one victory at a time.
Bobby J. Rigues is president of the Aledo ISD school board and Charlie Martinez is president of the Weatherford ISD school board.