Raising Their Voices for Public Education

Meredith Shamburger for LONGVIEW NEWS-JOURNAL – December 27, 2017

Teachers Protesting at Gregg County Courthouse

Teachers Protesting at Gregg County Courthouse

This was the year I witnessed people reclaiming their voices.

How else would you describe hundreds and hundreds of East Texas teachers at the Gregg County Courthouse on a sweltering July day to rally against what they see as a fundamental lack of respect from state lawmakers for educators and public education?

Or the handful of Carthage ISD residents who spent the morning on the first day of school to protest districtwide budget and personnel cuts? Or how about the group of parents and educators who attended a community meeting featuring public education advocate Charles Foster Johnson and Texas Pastors for Children?

This seems like the year that people of all stripes decided it was time to come together and make some noise — and hopefully bring about meaningful change. I would say it worked.

Retired Gladewater teacher Suzanne Bardwell’s July protest at the courthouse focused on rising health care costs, jeopardized pension plans, a push for school vouchers and decreases in school funding at the state level, especially after this year’s general legislative session.

“We’ve got to begin using our teacher voices, people,” Bardwell told the crowd. “We’ve got to stand together for ourselves. We’ve got to stand for the retirees, and we’ve got to stand for teachers and the public school employees in the system right now.”

If you don’t think the sight of hundreds of angry teachers had an impact on the issues they were talking about, just ask state Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston. He told a group of superintendents and administrators in September that the rally had an effect in Austin.

“July 12, we had that rally (in Longview),” VanDeaver said. “You want to know what happened on July 13? The lieutenant governor announced in a press conference that school funding, retired teachers would be a priority in the special session. The governor placed those items on call for the special session.”

I’m always glad when I get to cover a protest. It means people are getting involved in their community, and they’re (usually) trying to make things better. Seeing hundreds of people taking an active interest in government this year has been inspiring.

But VanDeaver, Bardwell and I share the same concern: People have to vote, too. Regardless of the political issue at hand or which side of the aisle you’re on, too many people don’t bother to cast ballots.

Voting is the other way you let your elected officials know how you feel. It’s how you make sure your representatives do, in fact, represent you. And there are too many people in East Texas who are not voting in any election, whether it’s a presidential election or to decide a school board representative.

Next year, I hope, is the year people reclaim their vote.

Read the entire article here…