A crucial election year ahead and Gov. Abbott’s dereliction of duty

Dereliction of duty, part one:  Gov. Abbott blames local educators for state’s own special-ed lapses

Dereliction of duty, part two:  The governor’s 2.5-percent non-solution on property taxes

A crucial election year ahead:  Get ready—a crucial election season for public education is upon us, with early voting set to start February 20 in Republican and Democratic primaries for statewide, state legislative, and congressional offices. The first round of the primaries culminates on March 6, with runoffs on May 22 to settle primary races where there is no majority winner in round one. Once major-party nominees are all chosen, the general-election contest gets under way in earnest, en route to the November 6 grand finale. Layered on top of that schedule will be many local elections for school boards and local ballot propositions in May and November, with possible runoffs in June and December.

All these elections will present us with challenges and opportunities. The outcomes will make a huge difference in the lives of retired and active school employees and the students and families who depend on our public schools for educational opportunity. Texas AFT will be providing you with tons of information you can use to help you make your choices at the polls. Look for a steady stream of election and related policy news via all Texas AFT media, including this Hotline, commencing this month and continuing all the way through the year.

Dereliction of duty, part one—Gov. Abbott blames local educators for state’s own special-ed lapses:  As we reported last week, the federal Department of Education has found Texas illegally capped enrollment of students in special-education programs, inducing school districts to limit special-ed enrollment to 8.5 percent of their pupils or face heightened scrutiny and oversight from the Texas Education Agency for non-compliance. Gov. Abbott responded to the finding of illegality by blaming school districts for a “dereliction of duty” toward students with disabilities. It was a classic attempt to pass the buck, but local educators were having none of it. The “dereliction” here was on the part of the state of Texas, they said, and Abbott and his predecessors in the governor’s office going back to the state policy’s origin in 2004 own it.

Dereliction of duty, part two—The governor’s 2.5-percent non-solution on property taxes:  Gov. Abbott is also trying to shift blame for high local property taxes away from the state, riding to the rescue with a proposal to cap local governments’ tax hikes at 2.5 percent. Abbott is conveniently ignoring the fact that school property taxes, which account for a predominant share of property taxation overall, are being driven up by deliberate state policy in which he is complicit. The state’s contribution to funding for our public schools has shrunk to less than 40 percent, leaving it to school taxpayers at the local level to bear a disproportionate share of the load. As Ann Beeson of the Center for Public Policy Priorities put it, “If Governor Abbott is really concerned about property taxes, then he should join the business leaders and other Texans calling for more state investment in public schools.”