Photo courtesy of Alfonzo Mendoza

The 86th Texas Legislative Session began in Austin, Texas on Jan. 8. Texas legislature meets once every two years, which means they don’t have time for political theatrics and must put aside political agendas to solve pressing issues. The newly elected Speaker of the House, Dennis Bonnen (R – Angleton) has said their top priority will be the public school finance system. Although the Senate wants to address property taxes, its constituents can expect many controversial bills soon to come.

SA RISE, a community organization that focuses on education equality, held a public event on Jan. 25 in accordance with DreamWeek to discuss and inform the public about what bills will be heard on the congressional floor and how they will impact local schools. SA RISE Director Sarah Perez and SAISD Legislative and Strategic Affairs Director Seth Rau led the event. Together, they covered a wide array of possible bills that would directly affect our public school system. He discussed a potential bill that would increase public school funding to over five billion dollars in the next two years, with two billion dollars in property tax relief.

“We have to be able to make sure that all kids in Texas have access to a high quality of education, and that means recapturing local dollars in property taxes,” Rau said.

Some of the other issues discussed were mental health in school systems, immigration, school vouchers and the contracts of public school teachers, all issues that are going to be focused on heavily in the coming months. During the public meeting, a local teacher stood up, thanked everyone for participating and commented, “As teachers, we don’t have the luxury of being neutral on these issues.”

Bahia Amawi, a children’s speech pathologist, recently lost her job after refusing to sign her contract which had a subclause that prohibited her from boycotting the state of Israel. Since the publication of this story, lawmakers in Texas are now looking to address the clause since it threatens the free speech of public workers. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas (ACLU) has begun the process of suing the state of Texas and overturning the bill.

According to the ACLU of Texas website, “The lawsuit, filed on behalf of four Texans, argues that the law, HB 89, which went into effect last year, violates the First Amendment’s protection against government intrusion into political speech.”

“You have to do more than just make noise and be angry. That is one of the reasons why I joined SA RISE. I loved that it is a group of everyday individuals that care deeply about educational equity and act on those feelings instead of just talk about them. We go out into the community and ask people, create space for dialogue, find out what the community needs and then organize around those issues,” commented SA Rise Director, Sarah Perez.

As the nature of our current political system seems to fall deeper into partisan politics, Texas lawmakers have no time to put on political demonstrations. Texas’ educational quality has declined greatly over the years and many attribute that to budgeting. With Texas being in the spotlight recently under the Trump administration, representatives will have to work exceedingly hard to satisfy their constituents and the current federal government.

Perez concluded the meeting with a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” To become more civically engaged and for more information about SA RISE, please visit https://sanantonio-rise.squarespace.com.

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