Texas Democrats Unite to Defend Public Education at 2024 State Convention 

This past weekend, Texas Democrats gathered in El Paso for their 2024 state convention, and the tone could not have been more different from the Texas GOP Convention held in San Antonio in late May.  

As speaker after speaker took the stage, one issue resonated above all others: the urgent need to protect public education from Republican attacks. Democrats were unified in their opposition to Governor Abbott’s private school voucher scheme and the ongoing assault against higher education. Elected officials, candidates, and community activists emphasized their determination throughout the weekend to elect a pro-public education majority in the Texas House of Representatives to safeguard neighborhood schools and shield our institutions of higher education from Republican extremism. 

State Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) sounded the alarm, warning that Abbott’s “scorched earth” campaign to oust GOP voucher opponents in the primary has left Republicans just three seats shy of passing vouchers next session. Hinojosa emphasized that the stakes couldn’t be higher, with the very future of public education on the line. “Abbott went scorched earth on his own party, taking out anti-voucher Republicans. And the result is that our anti-voucher coalition is now three votes behind,” Hinojosa said. “To put it another way: We need to elect about three more Democrats to the Texas House to defeat vouchers and defend our neighborhood public schools.” 

Numerous elected officials and candidates, especially those in battleground districts with struggling schools, echoed Hinojosa’s call to arms. “Everybody knows public education is truly under attack and it is being used as a bargaining tool,” said Aicha Davis, a current member of the State Board of Education (SBOE) and candidate for the Texas House seeking to represent the Dallas area. Davis, one of Texas AFT’s most reliable allies on the SBOE, declared “Top Republicans in Texas have shown how loyal they are to their party, not to their communities.” 

Texas House candidate Kristian Carranza, running in the San Antonio area in one of the most competitive seats in the state against Republican John Luhan, described public schools as vital “safety nets” for working-class communities, providing not just education but essential services like meals, after-school programs, and more. “For people, this is a lived reality when we talk about private school vouchers,” said Carranza, a long-time community organizer. “The way I talk about this is, the financial crisis schools are facing is due to massive budget deficits, and that’s the inevitable result of elected officials like John Luhan who have been choosing to toe the line with their party rather than stand up for their community.”

House candidate Lauren Ashley Simmons, running to represent the Houston area, slammed Abbott for “destroying, dismantling public education.” Simmons used the state’s takeover of Houston ISD as a cautionary tale. “Our governor [Greg Abbott] has been on tour like Taylor Swift for the past year going to private school after private school touting vouchers,” said Simmons, a public school mom and labor organizer who attributed her victory in the Democratic primary to the efforts of the labor movement. “Then all of a sudden, and HISD [Houston Independent School District] is not perfect, but HISD at the time was a B-rated district, and all of a sudden it’s taken over by TEA [Texas Education Agency] and we are stuck with a superintendent who was the CEO of charter school network… Let me be clear what they’re doing to HISD is happening all over Texas … We must protect our school districts for the students and the teachers, and for our society. We cannot lose.” 

Rather than push vouchers, Democrats vowed to fight for substantially more funding for public schools and overdue raises for teachers and support staff. They blasted Republicans for yet again failing to allocate any of the state’s $33 billion surplus to public education last session, money that could have alleviated widespread shortages and deficits.  

“I personally saw how severely underfunded and undersupported our schools are,” said Texas House candidate Averie Bishop about her experience as a substitute teacher and touring schools statewide after winning the Miss Texas competition in 2022. “School vouchers will pass if we do not flip my seat from red to blue.” 

As mentioned before, a common theme among the convention speeches was outrage at unprecedented Republican extremism and a deceptive campaign to abandon neighborhood schools under the guise of “parental choice,” part of a cynical attempt to undermine faith in public schools to manufacture support for vouchers.  Gov. Abbott is hellbent on defunding public education to pay for private school vouchers and the only way to stop him is by maintaining a pro-public education majority in the Texas House. 

But amid the alarm was also determination that Democrats have a winning message on public education to break through in 2024 if they keep the focus on fighting for public school students, parents, and educators.

“I’m the proud product of public schools in San Antonio,” said Carranza. “I know that I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for public school education and the support they provide to our communities. San Antonio is a very working-class community and we just had more elementary schools close just this past year.” 

Davis, Carranza, Simmons, and Bishop have all been endorsed by Texas AFT. At the convention, we also met three current or former educators running as Democrats to bring their deep knowledge and experience to the SBOE: Rayna Glasser, Morgan Kirkpatrick, and Dr. Raquel Saenz Ortiz. 

There was optimism that the passion on display can translate into the turnout needed to flip pivotal House seats and secure a majority to boost school funding and educator pay. Chairman Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) said while building up Democratic campaign infrastructure is “not sexy,” it is “the bread and butter” and “fundamental skills that have to be done if we’re going to win.” 

In recognition of the crucial role that the Texas House Democratic Caucus (HDC) played in defeating vouchers in the 88th regular session and the four special sessions that followed, Martinez Fischer and his HDC colleagues were presented with an award by Socorro AFT leader, long-time educator, and Thrive Fellow Yvonne Salazar together with Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina. Salazar had one of the most memorable lines of the convention when she referred to Abbott as “public enemy number one to public education.” 

The convention made crystal clear that the fate of public education hinges on the outcome of just a handful of races this November. With at least seven battleground Texas House districts in play, many in areas with underfunded schools, there is a real path for Democrats to make the gains needed to stop vouchers and pass transformative investments in our schools. 

Educators and school employees across the state are ready to lead the charge to engage our colleagues, parents, and the public in this existential fight for the future of our schools. The passion and energy to protect public education was palpable at the Texas Democratic Convention. Now, it’s up to all of us to channel that energy into votes and victories in November. We must go all-in – block walking, phone banking, donating, engaging friends and neighbors – to send an unmistakable message at the ballot box that Texans stand with our neighborhood schools. 

Let’s unite to safeguard public education and deliver the funding and respect our students and teachers need to thrive. Together, we can forge a brighter future for the Lone Star State.