The 85th legislature just completed a tumultuous special session, tasked by Gov. Greg Abbott to tackle 20 subjects not addressed to his liking during the 2017 regular session. The special session was an engineered opportunity for a legislative bonus round. As media have reported, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick worked with a handful of legislators at the end of the regular session to take hostage or stonewall vital medical agency sunset bills in order to advance his pet priorities—like private school vouchers and state regulations on bathroom usage. The demise of those bills and resulting political pressure are the reason many of us spent our dog days of summer in the halls of the Texas State Capitol.
We’re proud that we ended this special session without the enactment of reckless voucher bills or over-regulation of local school districts, and we defeated the blatantly anti-educator “union dues” legislation favored by the governor and lieutenant governor. Already, Abbott and Patrick are threatening another special session and blaming the Texas House and Speaker Joe Straus for those “failures,” which we celebrate as victories for Texas schoolchildren and educators.
Importantly, we’re also ending the session with half a billion more dollars for public education than we had in June, thanks to a vocal education community. But is it too little and too late to stop the surge of discontent among educators?
We entered the regular session facing a true crisis—not the kind of make-believe crises manufactured by political operatives to generate “scorecard” votes for elections. We at ATPE knew the state’s educator healthcare program would implode if lawmakers did not act this year. For years, we wrote about the looming collapse in our publications and on our TeachtheVote.org blog. We urged legislators to intervene.
For educators facing dramatic healthcare cost hikes, it’s hard to find comfort in the 85th legislature’s efforts to prevent the demise of TRS healthcare programs. In the regular session, legislators leaned on local taxpayers to provide funding for about half the TRS-Care deficit, forcing TRS to rejigger the design of healthcare plans for retirees and active educators to fill the gaps. Lawmakers heard the complaints of retired educators and compelled the governor to add to his special session call an item addressing retirees’ healthcare. ATPE lobbied for the additional $212 million that legislators are now sending to TRS, but we know it’s a stopgap and that many will still feel the pain.
The impact of legislative apathy on educators’ pocketbooks is a tough pill to swallow. We’ve heard your voices, and we understand why you are angry.
We cannot turn back time to make lawmakers do what should have been done over a 15-year time span: slowly increase state appropriations to keep up with market forces and rising healthcare costs. Nor can we change the hearts of officials who were elected on anti-public education campaigns. They remain determined to limit spending on education (i.e., for your classrooms, salaries, and students’ needs), de-professionalize your work, and privatize our schools to benefit special interests and campaign donors. No amount of pleading from lobbyists or constituents will make such politicians turn away from their campaign promises. But we can change one important thing: who’s in office.
Go ahead and get mad, but let’s put that feeling to work. Texas educators are a million strong and can make a stupendous statement in the 2018 primary elections if we stand together. Now is the time to get busy.
For full coverage of how public education fared during the special session, see our blog at TeachtheVote.org.