My wife is a Texas public school teacher so I guess that’s why we got this flyer in our mail the other day. It talks about the US Senate race in Texas as it affects Texas teachers. It’s full of a lot of misinformation so I thought I would address it. If you know a Texas teacher, please send this on.
The first thing I noticed is that this is a US Senate race. Ninety percent of the laws and regulations that education is subject to and over 90% of the funding it receives is from the state capital. Therefore, this race has very little to do with education or teachers since it is for a federal position. I wondered why teachers would be so concerned. Then I saw that this came not from teacher advocacy groups but the Texas Democratic party executive committee.
The first point they make is about public school funding. They knock Cruz for having “voted to give away upward of $600 million in school funding to private schools.” As proof, they cite Senate Amendment 1852. I looked it up. What that amendment did was to allow parents who have a 529 plan to use that money for any kind of education expense. The flyer wants you to think Cruz was diverting tax money to private schools when in fact, he wanted to allow parents more options in their kids’ education by allowing them to use money they had saved in a new way.
The second point they make is called Voucher Policy but they don’t talk about vouchers, other than to say O’Rourke opposes them. As for Cruz, they say he promised to eliminate the federal Department of Education. What does that have to do with vouchers? Voucher systems are state policy. Neither O’Rourke nor Cruz would be eligible to vote on something like that.
The third point they make is about Teacher Retirement. Like the last one, they go off on a tangent when it comes to Cruz. Teachers have their own separate retirement system that they pay into but the flyer complains about Cruz’s votes on Social Security, none of which affect teacher retirement.
The interesting thing about this point is what they say about O’Rourke. They say he co-sponsored legislation to eliminate the “Windfall Elimination Provision.” I’d never heard of that so I looked it up. That was a law passed in 1978 and expanded in 1983 (When Democrats controlled Congress) which stipulated that if you paid into a retirement system that exempted you from Social Security contributions, as the state teacher retirement systems do, then you would not be allowed to collect the full amount from Social Security.
I don’t know about you but that seems fair to me. If you don’t pay into Social Security all your life, why would you have an expectation to collect the full amount? So here is O’Rourke, proposing a bill that would obligate our already-broke Social Security system to pay benefits to people who hadn’t contributed to it.
While we’re on that subject, the Texas Teacher Retirement System used to be just as broke as Social Security. It was the Texas GOP and especially the Tea Party groups that lobbied the legislature in Austin to fully fund the system. Now, teachers in Texas have a secure, fully-funded retirement system.
The fourth point they make is about “High Stakes Testing.” This is where teachers, schools, and districts are rated on test scores. The complaint is that it forces teachers to “teach to the test.” O’Rourke opposes this and they say Cruz is for it.
Remember I said that 90% of legislation that affects schools come from the states? The other 10% comes from the federal government through the Department of Education. Remember how earlier they were knocking Cruz because he wants to get rid of that department? If that department went away, so would the high stakes testing! That’s why Cruz and other Republicans want to get rid of it. All it does is impose these kinds of mandates on the states. It was created to improve test scores but in forty years, it has not accomplished that goal. It’s time to think of something new.
The fifth point they make is labeled “Teachers” but it should be “Teachers unions” because it credits O’Rourke with supporting them and quotes Cruz as saying that teacher unions are a “political army.” The thing is that Cruz is right on this point. Political action is one of the big things unions do and that is especially true of teacher unions. In the US, two of the most powerful and politically-connected unions are the American Federation of Teachers and the Nation Education Association.
The flyer wants you to think that Cruz is somehow anti-education because he opposes the teacher unions. However, when you think about it, unions exist to protect their members’ jobs through collective bargaining. Exactly what their members do is secondary. For example, the United Auto Workers union cares less about the quality of the cars its members produce than they do about making sure those members are paid a good wage with commensurate benefits. The same is true of the teachers unions. Quality of education is secondary to members’ jobs. It isn’t that they’re bad people, they just have a different set of priorities than they want you to think they have.
The bottom line is that every politician is pro-education. They all want our kids to get a good education. However, facts are facts. Despite spending more money on average per student than any other country, US kids rank 17th in math and science and Texas ranks in the forties of the fifty states.
One set of politicians wants to keep doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result by throwing more money at it while the other set thinks it’s time to try something new. Vouchers are in use in many of the countries the US is behind and in many of the states that Texas is behind. In all the places it’s been implemented, none of the anti-choice crowd’s dire predictions have come true.
So why are the teachers unions and so many education advocacy groups opposed to voucher systems? Because it represents a huge change to the status quo. I have worked in I/T all my life. I have seen firsthand how people fear change, even when it is beneficial and makes their lives easier. This is especially true of people whose jobs and positions of power and authority are tightly tied to the status quo and that certainly describes the teachers unions and much of the education establishment in this country.
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