COMMENTARY: #BlowingtheWhistle on public educators who promote civic engagement

Public school educators protesting in opposition of vouchers, the “bathroom bill,” and Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s statements on school finance at the Texas State Capitol July 17.

Every eligible voter should be encouraged to vote — especially 18-year-old seniors who will be first-time voters in the Texas Primaries or by mid-term elections in November.

A non-profit group called Texas Educators Vote emphasizes the need to increase civic engagement by encouraging school districts to provide transportation for eligible-voting students to polling stations as part of a “culture of voting” resolution, per Emma Platoff The Texas Tribune.

Far-right conservatives, such as Empower Texans, a non-profit organization, don’t approve. Considering these actions “illegal electioneering,” Empower Texans initiated the “ISD Whistleblower Project,” challenging public educators to confidentially rat out on fellow educators encouraging students to vote.

Empower Texans president Michael Quinn Sullivan issued statewide letters that read, “If you know any teacher or other school district employee who is seeing signs that their district is engaging in the falsely named ‘culture of voting’ effort to turn out Democrats in the GOP elections, encourage them to email [us].”

Public education supporters are providing a mocking response: A wife is #BlowingTheWhistle on her husband for giving his brand new coat to a shivering student after class, a father is #BlowingTheWhistle on his daughter for buying science project supplies for Biology lesson plans, friends are #BlowingTheWhistle on teacher friends for sacrificing weekends to write personalized letters of recommendation for 12th graders.

Under the U.S. Constitution, all states must provide K-12 students access to free, quality education, despite any mental or physical disabilities, immigration status, discipline problems, etc. Meanwhile, private and charter schools can cherry-pick their students by setting enrollment criteria through academic or financial standards.

As a legislative intern at the Texas State Capitol, I’ve personally heard the term “teachacrat” used to describe public educators for their principles of equity and inclusion. Public educators aren’t in it for the money, and so many of them sacrifice hard-earned dollars and off-the-clock hours to further improving the lives of their students. They would take a bullet for their students and it’s unfortunate this phrase is not an exaggeration.

The Texas Legislature’s lack of funding for healthcare benefits and the Teacher Retirement System are another can of worms public school employees have to worry about, which includes teachers, administrators, counselors, librarians, nurses, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and classroom aides. In fact, on Feb. 4, a second-grade teacher in North Texas died because she couldn’t afford the $116 copay for flu medication.

Besides high-stakes pressures from standardized testing, teachers apparently now have to deal with protecting their students from voter intimidation — let’s call it what it is. Tea Partiers of the far-right are worried that buses full of 18-year-old students will unseat them and their preferred candidates.

In Roald Dahl’s classic “Matilda,” a book-loving little girl has a loving teacher named Miss Honey to provide a nurturing classroom environment away from her absentee parents and tormenting school principal. As a proud product of public education, it’s my pleasure to show gratitude to all the Miss Honeys, but more importantly, it’s my responsibility to fight for public educators’ rights to adequate teaching supplies, fair wages and retirement funds.

Use the #BlowingTheWhistle hashtag to share how your favorite public educator helped you strive, and also go out and block vote for candidates lacking endorsement from Empower Texans or smooth-talking private education supporters swiftly seeking to redirect funds from public education.