This past weekend, the Texas Tribune hosted their annual Texas Tribune Festival in Downtown Austin. The three day festival included 120+ panels and events with important figures and elected officials from across the state and across the country. Public education and related issues were a frequent topic of discussion at the festival.
Private school vouchers, which have been proven to be ineffective and harmful to public schools, were a main topic of discussion. State leaders such as Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have both come out in support of vouchers and promised that vouchers will be on the agenda for the coming legislative session.
Conversely, Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan stated that he did not think that vouchers would have enough votes to pass out of that body. He also said that he would not personally support vouchers because vouchers are not supported by his constituents. Phelan pointed out that voucher bills have been pushed in the state legislature since he was first elected to the body in 2015, but all have failed.
Texas AFT-endorsed Democratic State Rep. Mary González spoke out against vouchers stating that the policy is part of a coordinated effort to defund public schools. Rep. González said, “I don’t think it’s an accident. I think there’s a lot of intentionality in dismantling trust to teachers, to public education.”
Republican State Sen. Robert Nichols, who has voted against vouchers bills in the past, said, “It doesn’t work for rural Texas… I think they’re just wrong. The governor’s wrong on this issue and I’d love an opportunity to talk to him about it.”
In the wake of the Uvalde massacre, the worst school shooting in Texas History, there have been increasing calls to pass common sense gun safety regulations at the state and federal levels. One of the most frequently discussed policies was raising the minimum age to purchase assault weapons from 18 to 21. The Uvalde shooter waited until the day after his 18th birthday to legally purchase an assault weapon from a federally licensed gun store.
Despite the increased calls from educators, parents, and advocacy organizations to pass these reforms, Speaker Phelan was doubtful that any firearm restrictions would pass the Texas Legislature. Phelan stated that he would vote against increasing the minimum age to buy a firearm.
Senator Ted Cruz was booed and heckled when he vehemently opposed additional firearm restrictions. Ted Cruz flatly claimed that “If the objective is to stop these crimes, gun control is singularly ineffective.”
On a panel with fellow Democratic State Representatives, Chairman Rafael Anchia spoke in favor of gun safety measures, stating, “There’s no bottom here. It is a fetish and a cult of guns that is causing us to go beyond the looking glass. No one thinks it’s a good idea for an 18-year-old to be able to buy military-style weaponry.”
Rafael Anchia, Chairman of the House Pensions, Investments and Financial Services Committee, also took the opportunity to speak in support of Texas retired teachers. When asked what his primary focus for the upcoming legislative session would be, Chairman Anchia said, “We need to take care of our retired teachers. … That has to be an absolute priority for the Legislature.”
Chairman Anchia has consistently supported cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for TRS retirees throughout his time in the Texas House. Any COLA bill would likely have to pass through the House Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services Committee before it is voted on by the House. We are encouraged that Chairman Anchia has prioritized a secure retirement for all educators and will likely propose the legislation to do it.