“Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”
Once, it was a sarcastic banner above your English teacher’s door. Now, it’s a promise from our politicians. Even Dante’s Inferno wasn’t this scary.
I can see it now: thousands of teachers with boxes full of books and Clorox wipes and Anxiety preparing to start the school year in four weeks.
Texas leaders have failed Texans with little room to correct course before the school year begins.
After pillaging Texan’s property taxes, Commissioner Mike Morath (appointed by Republican Governor Greg Abbott) led the Texas Education Agency in abandoning the welfare of tiny Texans and those of us who teach and care for them.
Robbing all control from our local districts, the tyrannous TEA mandates that all must open — and stay open! For Texas teachers from Amarillo to Austin, from Del Rio to Dallas, our schools will face drastically different progress in our local battles to stop this virus. TEA has devastated a small town’s ability to personalize their reopening and a large metropolis’ power to protect millions of students and their families. If you believe in small, local government, why do you vote for these people?
We could use the $90 million used on the state mandated exams to replace the stolen supplemental funds, hire more teachers to decrease class sizes, and save for the unexpected obstacles we cannot see today. Instead, Morath insisted our tiny Texans shall take the STAAR because “teaching without testing is just talking,” you know. This costly and useless assessment is nothing more than a wart on education. Between published poets admitting they couldn’t answer the questions of the poems they’d written themselves and last-minute changes to the English II STAAR exam in the middle of the school year, the assessment has only worked against me in the classroom. It has never benefited my instruction, my school, or my students in any measurable or meaningful way.
Republican leaders from Morath to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick delight in handing out “grades,” shaming our most vulnerable districts with “Fs.” Many states have long abandoned these assess-to-punish practices using more sophisticated and inexpensive alternatives to improve education. If you believe in fiscal conservatism, why do you vote for these people?
Our property taxes were unilaterally and unceremoniously stolen to pay some other bill Morath failed to balance, and the precious CARES Act money — designed to supplement the obvious extra costs coming — was used to pay up the rest of the school year. Lowering property taxes has long been the promise of the Texas GOP. Not only have they not lowered them, but it turns out that the power of our locally elected representatives to vote on and appropriate those taxes is just for show in Austin. If the Governor’s appointed former-software-developer-turned-education-commissioner can just change the way our investments are used, we have taxation without representation. If you believe in transparency and a republic system of governance, why do you vote for these people?
Instead of aid in this time of anxiety, our leaders have simply fueled its fire. Masks will not be mandated, leaving the health of our teachers and staff up to the political veracity of a dangerous minority.
No mention of additional sick days for teachers who don’t know if they’ll have to quarantine for 14 days every time a student tests positive. We only get the 10, leaving a four-day penalty on our pay? Most of our substitute base is made of retired teachers, many of whom will think twice before picking up the job of any teacher associated with a covid exposure.
TEA’s “helpful tips” hysterically suggest opening a window. This one really made me chuckle since most of our buildings are built without the ability to open windows. Covid isn’t the only crisis threatening our tiny Texans at school which these leaders have ignored. Even if our classroom does have a window, our administrators remind us that opening them costs the district money in A/C and could damage the delicate system.
“Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”
Our safety as servants of our students is now in the singular hands of one Governor and one Commissioner. Both have proved malleable to malevolent political pressures.
When we cannot take our students on a field trip to the Governor’s Mansion or the Texas State Capitol because they’re closed as a safety measure to the public, that’s when you know the politicians inside those those buildings have failed us.
I hear no dissent from the Republican members of the Texas Legislature. I hear no dissent from my federal congressman or senators when De Voss and Trump threaten to withhold federal funding (which includes vital Special Education money).
From Creighton to Crenshaw, my Houston representatives were too busy hosting packed mask-less campaign events at my local BBQ joint to sit down with educators and hear from concerned constituents. Their hollow podcasts and posts offer us no solace, only the insistence that we really need some babysitters right now.
If the crisis is that some families cannot stay home with some children, creative solutions can be constructed to solve that specific problem. But, by forcing all educators — even those of us choosing to leave our own children at home for virtual learning — to return to underfunded and unsafe classrooms, is tempting Fate. Will we have to wait for a statewide tragedy to do the right thing?
Give power back to our local districts run by locally elected school boards. Cancel the STAAR and reappropriate that money to prepare our schools for a safe return in the Spring. Uphold the conservative values you profess to embrace.
If not, we will respond in November by replacing our State Legislature, our Texas Senator, and our Congressional representatives to ensure a happy and healthy New Year.
I can see it now: Texans entering the voting booth with this invisible banner hanging above: