This story was originally published by The El Paso Times, and can be found here.

Modifying a cliché, I believe it is unrealistic to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results. How many Texas educators and parents, I wonder, will once again sit out an election or vote against the best interests of their professions, their students and their children?

There are more than 700,000 public school employees in Texas and millions of parents of school-age children, a potentially significant voting bloc. Yet, Texas has one of the lowest voter participation rates in the country. Many educators and parents have been staying home on Election Day, and many who have voted haven’t based their electoral decisions on which candidates are best for public education.

It is no coincidence then that Texas consistently ranks in the lower tier of states in per-student funding for public schools, Texas teachers are paid $7,300 less per year than the national average, students are over-stressed from over-testing and many classrooms remain overcrowded and under equipped. And while active educators and retirees dig deeper into their pockets to pay for classroom supplies and rising health care costs, political leaders in Austin keep trying to waste tax dollars on private school vouchers for a handful of kids.

These problems are the consequences of recent elections. They will be repeated and compounded next year if educators and parents don’t vote in large numbers this fall and vote for new state leaders and legislators who truly will advocate for public education and give educators and their students more than lip service and a pat on the back.

Politics is a bad word to many educators and parents. But if you are a teacher or other employee in a public school, your career is directed by politics. Political decisions determine how much you are paid, the quality of your benefits and retirement, your teaching load, the length of your school day, the curriculum you teach and the quality of your workplace and working conditions.

If you are a parent, your children’s school days are set by political decisions made by elected policymakers. These include the length of the school year, the quality of curriculum choices, the quality of instructional materials, promotion and graduation requirements and how much time is spent on STAAR test preparation. A political decision to cut education funding led to an illegal cap on special education enrollments that denied essential services to thousands of children. Following a public outcry, the cap was removed, but funding still is lacking.

The size of your school property tax bill also is largely determined by policies and budgetary decisions made by elected officials in Austin.

I respect everyone’s right to base your vote on any issue of your choosing. But if educators and parents don’t vote in the best interests of their profession, their students and their children, if they don’t vote for education first, who will? If you think your vote isn’t needed, think again. An important pro-public education legislator was elected only a few years ago with a four-vote margin.

If we want the great public schools Texans deserve, we have to vote and elect people who will deliver. We have to vote for new leadership in Austin and a change in the U.S. Senate.

Noel Candelaria is president of the Texas State Teachers Association.

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