School Finance Commission meets February 8; and An important message on voting from Speaker Joe Straus

School Finance Commission meets February 8: The Texas Commission on Public School Finance will meet for the second time on Thursday, February 8, at 10 a.m. The meeting will be livestreamed at this site: No public testimony will be taken, but the commission will hear from invited expert witnesses on state and national trends in school finance. Also testifying will be Texas A&M professor Lori Taylor, on the topic of “school finance incentives.” Upcoming Hotlines will report on what witnesses and Commission members have to say.

Why you should vote in the March 6 primary elections—message from Speaker Joe Straus:
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus recently wrote an attention-getting article on the importance of voting in the March 6 primary elections. Please read the extended excerpt below—and be aware that the Hotline and other Texas AFT media over the next several weeks will have further news you can use about candidates and contests up and down the March ballot in both Republican and Democratic primaries.
Party primaries matter because they often effectively determine the winners of the November elections. But most Texans aren’t in the habit of voting in these crucial March contests. In 2014, the last time there was a primary in a non-presidential year, only 10 percent of registered Texas voters took part in the Republican primary, and only 4 percent of registered voters voted in the Democratic primary. These were hardly inconsequential elections: That year, we elected a new governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller, among important statewide officeholders.

In fact, less than half the people who voted Republican for governor that November had cast a ballot in the GOP primary just eight months earlier. In other words, about 1.4 million Texans who felt compelled to vote Republican in the general election did not take part in choosing the Republican nominees.

Small primary turnout creates a disconnect between the 28 million people who live in Texas and the small number of us entrusted with its leadership. Low turnout in primaries gives elected officials an excuse to focus on pleasing a narrow set of voters, interest groups and priorities. In fact, at the end of last year’s legislative session, I lamented the fact that there had been more urgency surrounding so-called bathroom bills (which were not a priority of mine) than fixing our school finance system (which was a priority of mine). But many in the state Capitol felt greater pressure from primary voters to act on misguided bathroom proposals than on the more difficult work of improving the way we fund public education.

The primary campaigns playing out across the state right now are about much more than choosing nominees for November’s general election. These elections are a chance for voters–not party leaders, but voters–to declare which solutions and governing approaches best fit this moment in our state’s history.

The ongoing primary campaign season is the time to have those conversations, because it’s the time that candidates and officeholders are listening most closely. A campaign should be an exchange of ideas rather than a battle of interest groups, and the transformation begins when we bring more people into the discussion.

Much has been made of the need for the business community to get involved in primary elections, and I agree. Texans on the front lines of growing our private-sector economy need to take a more active role. But the same also goes for educators, veterans, senior citizens, young people and anyone else who cares about the future of our state. A larger electorate will make officeholders consider a broader set of concerns.

The next Legislature will face some very significant challenges, from disaster relief to school finance to needed reforms at state agencies. That’s to say nothing of the many important decisions that will be made in the years to come by county commissioners, judges, sheriffs and other local officials who will be on the March primary ballot. The primary is not your last chance to influence government’s direction from Washington on down, but it is one of your best chances.

….Early voting in the primaries begins February 20. Between then and 7 p.m. on Election Day on March 6, we will all have a golden opportunity to tell our elected leaders what their priorities should be.