Preyor-Johnson: Voters didn’t prioritize education this election

[San Antonio Express-News] Preyor-Johnson: Voters didn’t prioritize education this election

SAN ANTONIO — A Texas American Federation of Teachers commercial this election asked: “Which Texas will we be? A state that honors our worth and protects our future? This November we will decide which Texas we will be.”

The resounding answer from Texas voters? More of the same.

A teacher union’s tweet Wednesday acknowledging its endorsed candidates “came up short” struck me as sad: “We are grateful for them. Our members appreciate their commitment to well-funded public schools & well-paid educators.”

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Each losing Democratic candidate for statewide office was listed and included in a photo: Beto O’Rourke, Mike Collier, Rochelle Garza, Janet Dudding, Susan Hays, Jay Kleberg and Luke Warford.

It’s a picture of what could have been that failed to resonate with voters. Some of those candidates promised to make a monumental difference for our state’s schoolchildren. The sad truth is that the needs of more than 5.4 million Texas K-12 public school students and their teachers were overlooked by voters.

As a former teacher, when I think of what the progress in schools could have been, I’m disappointed.

Texas ranks 42 in per-student funding and rates an F by Raise Your Hand Texas, a nonprofit that calls for an “equitable school finance system that, at the very least, funds Texas students at the national average.”

Property owners pay more than 60 percent of the state’s public education bill. Texas trails the national average by more than $4,000 per student and funding is inequitable, especially for low-income neighborhoods where it costs more to serve students’ diverse needs. Teachers are underpaid. Retired teachers don’t get cost-of-living increases. O’Rourke and Collier vowed to change all of it.

The statement about election results from Zeph Capo, the Texas AFT teacher union’s president, was mixed: “Yesterday’s election could have gone better for public education. But it also could have gone a lot worse,” he said.

Felix Uribe, freelance / Special to The Chronicle

He’s right. The midterm election results weren’t all grim.

Many elected officials known as education allies such as state Sens. Roland Gutierrez, José Menéndez and Judith Zaffirini, and state Rep. Diego Bernal kept their seats (not that these races were in doubt). Voters also returned Democrats Marisa B. Perez-Diaz and Rebecca Bell-Metereau to the State Board of Education. Fellow Democrat Melissa N. Ortega will also join the board.

And voters approved much-needed schools bonds for East Central ISD and Judson ISD.

But the outlook for public education in Texas is hardly promising. The state board’s GOP majority was strengthened in the midterms. Starting in January, there will be 10 Republicans and five Democrats on the board. Many of these winning SBOE candidates campaigned on false rhetoric such as critical race theory, which isn’t taught in K-12 schools.

Before the midterm election, the State Board of Education delayed updating social studies curriculum standards until at least 2025. Now, there’s no chance of the curriculum being more accurate or inclusive.

Damningly, we know there will be more school shootings, yet there’s no hope for commonsense gun control. Texas students are no safer than before the May Uvalde school massacre.

We know the high-stakes STAAR test should be changed, but the most likely change to come is to make the stakes higher. We’re likely to see continued culture wars over books, sex education, and LGBTQ+ matters.

How will Texas retain and hire enough quality teachers in this political landscape? How will schools be better funded and how will students have safe spaces to learn?

Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, Abbott pushed for school vouchers, which are a major threat to already inadequate public school funding.

Election results reveal priorities — and education didn’t rank high. On the issue most important to their vote, Democratic respondents in a national exit poll indicated abortion at 76 percent and gun policy at 60 percent; Republicans indicated immigration at 73 percent with inflation at 71 percent.

Our state’s public school system — with its more than $64 billion price tag — affects every Texan, shaping lives, our future workforce and the economy. It should be more of a priority.