Extending an unfortunate recent trend, Texas public schools again came under fire during the 85th Legislative Session. Many retired and current school employees have grown tired of this trend and have asked me what they can or cannot say regarding the current political environment. Public school personnel often feel as though they cannot speak about their beliefs concerning political issues or candidates. But it is important to know that this is not the case. The law does not prohibit public employees from speaking on matters of public concern or expressing opinions regarding candidates and political matters important to them. The law does, however, prohibit employees from using public funds, which includes anything of value owned by the District or the employee’s work time, to advocate for or against a candidate or measure on a ballot. Employees are permitted to speak about candidates and political issues using school resources or time, so long as they do not advocate for or against measures or candidates. The bottom line is that it is certainly possible to have full discussions regarding public education without violating Texas law. For example, I know I can legally share the following information:
Governor Greg Abbott, when provided the opportunity to appoint a chairperson to the State Board of Education, chose an outspoken homeschool advocate. So, by the Governor’s design, the State Board of Education is currently chaired by someone who is not a proponent of public education.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick described many Texas public school employees as “Educrats,” saying we are only interested in maintaining the status quo. The current Lieutenant Governor also opined on national television that local governments are to blame for our problems in America.
State Senator Don Huffines was asked by students from Richardson ISD to support their public schools and not divert money to private entities. What was Senator Huffines’ response? He yelled at the high school students and told them they didn’t know what they were talking about.
State Senator Van Taylor of Plano voted for vouchers and was one of the Senators on the Senate Education Committee who would not pass the meaningful education finance reform found in House Bill 21 without attaching vouchers disguised as Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) to House Bill 21. During the Committee Hearing on that bill, Senator Taylor accused school superintendents from South Texas of failing low-income students.
Contrast these viewpoints with that of Joe Straus, State Representative from San Antonio and Speaker of the Texas House, who openly professes that “public schools are the best economic development we have.” As you might surmise from Speaker Straus’ remarks, at least one house in our Texas Legislature fully supports public education, the 700,000 public education employees, and the 5.2 million students in public education. I can say this because I am not telling anyone how to vote regarding any candidate or measure, but rather explaining actual events, facts, and my opinion. I believe it is important that we can have frank discussions regarding our legislators between now and the March 6, 2018 primary election. The future of the children in our public schools absolutely depends on it.