For decades, Texas Republicans have been hoping you won’t notice how much public education is underfunded. Now that the far right is in the driver’s seat, we can see it was a failure by design.
Under Republican leadership, Texas has long underfunded our teachers and schools. For a while, this worked for Texas Republicans – at least politically. If someone complained, they could always point their fingers at the need for property tax relief or blame our failing schools on underpaid teachers. And if that didn’t work– blame Black and Brown communities. And if that didn’t work – hell blame the kids themselves.
Of course, they could also avoid the topic altogether. Instead of allowing the light to shine on our school, they could simply redirect their high beams to some unfortunate Texas group as a distraction in their signature Texas Republican culture war two-step. Anything to avoid responsibility.
Texas Republicans have been happy to keep up this understanding during their 6-month stay in Austin every odd year. The Texas Republican culture war two-step: bully some women or LGBTQ kids and do the bare minimum so that they can say they’ve done their part for our kids while they find ways to build personal wealth.
That worked for a while until the failures of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) started to show.
Republican failures, TEA Takeovers, and Privatization
In 2018, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) was placed under federal oversight by the Department of Education for its failings regarding special education. This was due to the illegal actions of the Texas Education Agency that put a limit on the percentage of students it would allow into special education programs, impacting countless kids.
This normally would be a wake-up call for any elected official who had the interests of their constituents at heart. But then again, we’re dealing with Greg Abbott.
Instead of fixing the root of most issues, underfunding, Governor Greg Abbott made a hard right turn led by party extremists. Greg Abbott decided to turn to Republicans’ trusted distracted dance, except now he created a new cultural war two-step. Step 1: Blame teachers at struggling schools in our most diverse cities and 2) funnel money into the pockets of his rich donors who put their kids to private Christian schools through the scheme known as vouchers.
While Abbott has been on a statewide tour pushing his voucher scheme, he simultaneously had TEA take over the Houston Independent School District (HISD) takeover earlier this year. The takeover was blasted by civil and racial rights advocates, including the ACLU of Texas. “The state takeover of HISD is not about public education — it’s about political control of a 90 percent Black and brown student body in one of the country’s most diverse cities,” they wrote on Twitter.
Then in late March, Abbott continued his strategy with a new diverse (and Democratic-run) city: Austin. State Representative Gina Hinojosa (D- Austin) is a leading voice on public education and sits on the prominent House committee. And late on the last Friday of March, she sent an explosive alert on social media to activate pro-public education Texans. She announced that the TEA recommended conservatorship over Austin Independent School District (AISD).
This means that a team selected by Commissioner Morath will have the power to take action over our local school district indefinitely, similar to the Houston Independent School District (HISD) takeover earlier this year.
According to Rep. Hinojosa, the agency has cited the district’s failings regarding students receiving special education. And in November, the voters of Austin elected four new trustees and an interim superintendent has since been hired. Most folks agree AISD is heading in the right direction. “Specifically, we know that many of AISD’s challenges are due to staffing shortages, “ said Hinojosa. “Additionally, the TEA has acknowledged that the state underfunds special education in AISD by close to $80 million annually.”
Of course, facts would only matter if Republicans cared about improving the lives of children. The solution seems simple: more funding equals better results. However, this is all a ruse toward the larger direction right back to the voucher scheme pushed by the extreme right.
As we’ve noted, current proposals that could become law give families enrolling in private or parochial schools $8,000 per student, per year to cover tuition and other related expenses.
This would be devastating to our public schools. Texas ranks near the bottom of national rankings of per-student funding, with the basic allotment totaling around $6,160 per student.
The Governor and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick are fully on board, leaving only the Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan left as a question mark. While Phelan generally is a pushover when it comes to right-wing agenda items, some rural Republicans may force his hand into a fight.
The solution to most of our public education problems is simple: funding. Simple solutions are usually welcome news. However, with the growing issues of sexual assault problems for Texas Republicans and other issues that plague the state, Republicans go for what they’re most familiar with for answers. The ole’ culture war two-step.