If the upcoming gubernatorial Texas Governor election between Greg Abbott and Beto O’Rourke has shown us anything, it’s that Texas has never been more divided about major issues, such as abortion, the economy, guns and immigration, which all directly or indirectly impact public education. Let’s put things into perspective here: comparatively speaking, our candidates could not be more different from each other. As a former teacher myself, there is no way I could ask students to create a Venn diagram for these two.
“As it stands, it is important to note that both candidates want to improve Texas education and safety, with dissimilar approaches of course”
“Trinity, help!” (last Matrix reference). Could these two be more opposite of each other? As it stands, it is important to note that both candidates want to improve Texas education and safety, with dissimilar approaches of course, which means our fundamental values could not be at higher stakes. The political impact this election will have on public education will greatly influence student learning, achievement, safety, school choice, funding and the overall quality of public education. And regardless of political leanings, Texans want change in public education.
“Regardless of political leanings, Texans want change in public education”
It is safe to say that a population that is better educated has less unemployment, reduced dependence on public assistance programs and greater tax revenue, which are all great things! While the state of Texas has estimated that each child’s education is worth about $5,140, in the past several years, that number has not increased alongside the rise of inflation. Public school is funded through local property taxes first, and whatever costs are left are to be paid by the state. Interestingly enough, as Texas’s economy has thrived over the years, local property taxes have funded a larger percentage of education than the state. What has most Texans up in arms is the continued rise in property taxes. And while school budgets are increasing, taxpayers aren’t necessarily seeing improvement in their public schools.
“As property taxes continue to rise in Texas, taxpayers aren’t seeing real improvement in public education”
Governor Abbott is vehemently pro-school choice and supports the implementation of private school voucher programs. Voucher programs are systems that allow parents to use the taxpayer funds allotted for public schools to finance their child’s education in a school of their choice, as long as it’s not a traditional public school. Education reform experts who oppose vouchers claim that too much money will inevitably be siphoned away from public schools (which still serve the vast majority of our state’s students), with little to no accountability systems to keep track of how the money is spent. Abbott has delivered the greatest tax relief in almost a decade, specifically cutting 25% of the business franchise tax. Beto claims that Abbott has mismanaged state funds for years and insists that while property taxes have increased, big businesses have gotten a break. Beto also insists that when he becomes governor the state will pay public schools what they are owed in school funding from state government funds, which will lower property taxes. Regardless, the future governor must prioritize school funding in Texas and fully invest in our state’s future, beginning with our children.
In the closing statements from the September 30th gubernatorial debate between Abbott and O’Rourke, Beto stated that “Look, I don’t think that Greg Abbott wakes up wanting to see children shot in their schools…but it’s clear that he’s incapable or unwilling to make the changes necessary to prioritize the lives of fellow Texans.” No one will argue that the disturbingly increased amount of school shootings in recent years has rocked the very fabric of our society. After a then 19-year-old former student killed and injured a total of thirty-four people at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida in 2018, which led to a wave of protest and activism from lawmakers, celebrities and the nation, everyone thought this had to be it. Then, Uvalde happened. The shooting that took place last May at Robb Elementary School in Texas has rewritten the data. The argument for how to eradicate school shootings has been an exhausting back and forth sport to say the least. The policy recommendations vary widely: arming teachers, using stronger surveillance technology to monitor online behaviors for signs of extreme violence, stricter gun control laws with higher levels of background screenings and limiting access to specific high-powered weapons. School safety is on the ballot.
“School safety is on the ballot”
On November 8th, Texas voters will make a decision as to what future they want to wake up to. Both choices are drastically different from each other. The stakes have never been higher and no matter what pill voters decide to take, Texas children will be impacted no matter the resolution.
As our policies and choices continue to change, and we bicker and squabble with our decisions, our children’s expectation of us to do better by them does not.