Throughout the 88th Legislative Session, many Texas legislators fought for the needs of Texas’ 5.4 public school students and made decisions that were the very best for their communities and their schools. Raise Your Hand Texas is honoring the 100 Texas legislators who stood out for their steadfast commitment to public education with the inaugural Raise Your Hand Texas Education Champion Award.
One of these awards went to State Rep. Ernest Bailes, R-House District 18, who represents Liberty, San Jacinto and Hardin counties, and a portion of east Montgomery County. The award was presented on Aug. 8 at a gathering hosted by Dayton ISD and attended by superintendents from Hardin, Liberty, Dayton and Tarkington ISDs.
“When legislators are willing to go above and beyond for their public schools and the students and teachers in their local community, they need to be recognized for their efforts,” said Dr. Michelle Smith, executive director for Raise Your Hand Texas. “Our Public Education Champion Award honors that steadfast commitment to the legislators’ local community when making decisions at our Texas Capitol.”
“While out-of-state interests tried to convince some Texas elected officials that vouchers should be their number one priority for education this session, these awardees remained steadfastly opposed, displaying courage and conviction to stand strong for local community public schools,” said Smith. “Saying ‘no’ to vouchers, which would funnel taxpayer dollars to unaccountable private schools and vendors, is fundamental to protecting and preserving public schools that are committed to each and every student.”
In selecting Public Champion Award recipients Raise Your Hand Texas reviewed legislation and votes during the 88th Legislative Session and identified 100 legislators who exemplified strong, courageous support for public schools, teachers and students.
The 100 legislators represent both the Texas House of Representatives and Senate, as well as rural and urban communities across Texas.
Dustin McGee, superintendent for Liberty ISD, McGee explained how often rural districts are lumped in with larger, more metropolitan schools, despite having vastly different needs and challenges. These smaller districts are often the backbone of their communities, serving as major employers and central gathering places for families and neighbors. That’s why having a voice in the state legislature like Bailes is crucial.
“Right now public schools feel like they’re almost in the middle of kind of a nasty, pesky battle a lot of times. On one side, we have one side of the aisle who likes to claim us a lot, but then oftentimes uses us for propaganda that the constituents that we serve don’t support, don’t believe in, and would never allow in our public schools. On the other side of the aisle, we have a group that Ernest is associated with, who quite frankly, tried to sell us out the middle of the night, and would have, if it wouldn’t have been for Ernest,” McGee said. “And that’s why we’re here today, because he stood up for us.”
According to McGee, in Liberty, Texas, on any given day, one-third to one-half of the population is in one of Liberty ISD’s four buildings.
“So we have to have somebody in Austin who advocates for us, who understands that. And the reason we’re here today is because we never have to worry if Ernest is going to do that for us. We’re here today to thank him for standing up for us, thank him for going every time he gets an opportunity, and being an advocate for all suburban and rural schools, because we’re not like everybody else. When both sides understand who we really are, they will begin to understand that we can’t be used as pawns because the people right now, who are in our classrooms, educating our future, who are in the trenches right now, deserve better than that,” McGee said. “It makes no sense to let a group and a community who represent basically a 90 percent voting block for Ernest’s party, it makes no sense to let us down on the bottom with no funding. We deserve better, our teachers deserve better. You all know that. What I need you to know is Ernest knows that as well and he goes and fights for us every day. And that’s why we’re here. So thank you, Ernest.”
When he took the podium to accept the award, Bailes reminded everyone at the awards ceremony that he comes from a family of educators.
“My mom is a school board president. My wife just started back school in the classroom, year 17 in the classroom. My Little sister is a high school counselor. My oldest sister teaches ESL. I’ve got one brother-in-law who is an athletic director, another brother-in-law who is assistant superintendent at a 6A school, and another sister-in-law who is a junior high principal. Public education is a lot of who I am and why I got to this point,” Bailes said.
Bailes said there appears to be an effort at the state level to make public education fail.
“They point out each and every day what the deficiencies are and why public education is not doing a good enough job. Public education has never been fully funded. It’s easy to pull funding to set someone up to fail and then point out the deficiencies. That’s not what we’re supposed to do,” said Bailes, adding that he has an uphill battle fighting those who defend school vouchers. “Vouchers are something that’s coming. We’ve got to head that off at every turn, working with a group of guys to not let that happen. We have a governor who is all in on that and he’s not a big fan of mine right now. He said to me, ‘Bailes, do you understand your people demand this? The numbers overwhelmingly say your people demand this.’ I said, ‘Governor, we know those aren’t real numbers.’ I said you can ask a 9-year-old who wants ice cream for dinner every night and he’s going to overwhelmingly say yes. I said, ‘There’s not been a single ballot proposition that has ever been placed on a primary ballot which has not passed with an overwhelming majority. You can ask what you want to ask to get the numbers and response that you need to get to push your agenda. Our kids deserve better than that.”
Standing Against Vouchers
The Texas Legislature has rejected school vouchers for decades. After a voucher proposal backed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott died at the end of the legislative session, Abbott pledged to call another Special Session this fall to attempt to pass school vouchers.
According to Charles Butt Foundation polling, the majority of Texas parents are satisfied with their child’s public school and would choose it again over other options. When asked about school vouchers, 54 percent of Texans say they oppose them.
With Texas more than $4,000 behind the national average in per-pupil funding and almost $7,500 behind the national average in teacher pay, Raise Your Hand Texas and education champions like Bailes appear to understand the importance of investing in public schools, teachers and students, not diverting more money from them through vouchers.
“Right now, Texas public education leaders and legislators are fighting political forces and well-funded out-of-state organizations from across the United States that want to reshape public education with little or no accountability and transparency, and a poor track record of performance in other states with voucher programs. These 100 legislators are doing the most for their communities and public schools,” said Dr. Smith.