March 28, 2023

Gwen Pauloski: Really, Governor?

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Author and educator Gwen Pauloski has some questions for Greg Abbott about his voucher initiative. Like many, he was a great cheerleader for heroic teachers in the early days of the pandemic. But then…

Three years later, according to Abbott, the 320,000 public school teachers who serve in our state-funded schools and hold state certifications have morphed into partisan propaganda peddlers.

The governor has been working hard in recent weeks to sell voters on his modified voucher program, which would give families up to $8,000 in public tax funds to pay for private school tuition. Unfortunately, in his desperation to get voters interested in this issue, Abbott has doubled down on his allegation that public school teachers are pushing a “radical woke” anti-curriculum in our classrooms, from kindergarten on up. Abbott’s logic: given the cesspool of radicalism our classrooms have become, unwitting Texas children need to be rescued from the clutches of scheming partisans.

I’ve worked in Texas public education for 25 years. In the dozens of faculties I’ve worked with as a teacher, a campus administrator, and a district manager, I’ve been struck by our overwhelming reticence to talk politics, even among our peers, much less in the classroom. We tend to be keenly aware that we are public school educators. We are ever mindful of our multiple stakeholders: the state, our district, our students, and their families. Those of us who do not honor professional boundaries risk negative appraisals, performance improvement plans, and contract nonrenewal.

What is passing strange about Abbott’s line of reasoning is that he oversees the 8,000+ Texas public schools spread across more than 1,000 districts. The buck stops at his desk. He appoints the Commissioner of Education and members of the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). He oversees the huge Texas Education Agency (TEA). All Texas public schools are under the state’s purview. Public school districts can even have their accreditation revoked and be closed.

If state-funded, state-certified teachers were running rogue in classrooms, the governor would surely be able to point to specific examples. Having presented no evidence to support his charge, it seems the governor is either disingenuous in his outrage, or he is just out of touch with the daily realities of teaching in the public schools he oversees. Since he’s held statewide office for over a decade now, that seems strange. We are a big state, but still.

She offers some eye-rolling doubts about much of his pitch. But do not miss this point.

The funniest part? Though the state has full oversight responsibility for public schools, it has no power over the private schools Abbott wants to funnel public funds to. As I understand it, most private schools understand the trade-off. They do not have to take the STAAR. They do not have to teach to the TEKS. They do not have to disclose their funding or dealings. Their teachers do not need state certification. For more than 180 years, Texas has kept its covenant: public tax dollars for public schools, held to account by the state. Now Abbott seeks to turn that covenant on its head, and truth along with it.

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