My phone rang as I walked from my classroom to the portable on Friday afternoon. “Teri, have you heard the weather report?” It was one of our local unit officers. “I just don’t think I can go to Lobby Day. It sounds like the weather is going to be bad. I can’t afford to miss another day if we get stuck in Austin.”
Well, no, I had not been listening to the weather. There had been several false alarms this winter, but something in my colleague’s voice caught my attention. I was only getting two days with my struggling readers next week already, and getting stuck would cause me to lose one of those precious days. Besides, the rest of my family would be going to pick up our new puppy, Westley, on Sunday afternoon, when we were set to arrive in Austin. Finally, the only firm Lobby Day appointment my local unit had scheduled was with a legislator known for his lack of public education support. The legislative session loomed dark and foreboding, with few friends for ATPE in sight. I have attended numerous Lobby Day events in my years with ATPE—surely it wouldn’t hurt to miss this one.
Then again, there is what you want to do and what you need to do. Serving ATPE at both the local and region level, I decided to go with what I needed to do. So at 8:30 Sunday morning, I was packed and waiting by the door for our faithful designated driver, Bill, to drive our three remaining group members to Austin.
Nearing the end of a great drive catching up with friends I don’t see very often, my phone chimed with a text message from our region president, who had arrived in Austin the night before. “Are you here yet?”
“Almost,” I typed back. “Just crossed under 2222.”
“We are all going back right after the meetings this afternoon.”
Having just traveled for three hours with two retirees who were determined to stay, going home early was not an option for me.
We arrived just before the meetings began. Soon I was listening to the encouraging words of Reverend Charles Johnson, who told us that we are not alone, and we should not stop until the children of Texas have the education they deserve. After an excellent presentation on the current issues by the ATPE lobby team, we had the privilege of listening to Judge Dietz explain the history of public education funding in Texas and why it so desperately needs to be fixed. We left for dinner ready to storm the Capitol.
Meeting with our legislator the next morning and listening to Senator Kelly Hancock explain how much of what has happened in Texas education policy has been driven by bad apples attempting to skirt rules on testing and other important policy areas, I began to see his viewpoint as an outsider looking in.
I was especially pleased when I was able to appeal to the businessman in our legislator to get him thinking about the need to revamp the education health insurance program. Because Senator Hancock is a family acquaintance, I was able to describe to him the struggles with getting medication for my daughter’s chronic illness. We are paying higher and higher premiums and, over the past seven years, our monthly cost for her medication has gone from $25 to thousands of dollars. The state, meanwhile, has been paying the same $75 toward insurance through TRS-ActiveCare since 2003. I asked Senator Hancock if he was still paying the same premiums for his employees that he did in 2003. We spoke about the importance of benefits in recruiting quality employees, and he voiced his desire to add up to three more plan options for teachers and to explore the possibility of allowing school districts to opt back out of the system if doing so would provide better healthcare options. He is truly willing to work with us.
After a few drop-bys at the offices of other legislators, we headed home. We made it safely despite the ice, and a second consecutive ice day on Tuesday provided me guilt-free time to bond with the new puppy. I am truly grateful I made the trip. Inspired by Reverend Johnson and Judge Dietz, we made inroads for education and ATPE with our legislators, and that may make all the difference during this legislative session.
Photo: Teri Naya (right) with past ATPE state president Shari Emmons.
Teri Naya is a reading interventionist for Birdville ISD and has been an ATPE member for 26 years. You can read her thoughts on teaching and reading at her blog.
Views and opinions expressed in guest posts are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of ATPE.