I’m a Teacher. I Plan to Vote.

Voters line up at an early voting station in Houston on Oct. 24, 2016. Photo by Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune

There’s a growing resistance in Texas to teachers like me speaking to others about the importance of voting. It’s baffling that there are those in power who would rather educators not vote or encourage others to vote — especially considering how important we are to helping millions of Texas children become responsible citizens.

But it’s also not surprising. After all, some state leaders have declared war on public education, even though its funding is a requirement outlined in the Texas Constitution. Instead of funding public schools to match the growing expectations placed on them, the Texas Senate, lieutenant governor and governor push private school vouchers that would funnel necessary public money to special interests with no strings attached. Texas politicians have even taken to name-calling. Public education is “a monstrosity” and educators championing public education are “educrats.”

These same leaders are forcing teachers to spend countless hours preparing students for standardized STAAR tests, which are then used to “grade” our schools, teachers and students. I didn’t become a teacher to help kids pass one-dimensional tests. I sought to help my students grow into well-rounded members of society, not turn into widgets who can game multiple-choice tests. But that’s what teachers are being forced to do as a result of policies coming from state lawmakers who don’t respect teachers’ hard work.

My colleagues and I chose this career-path knowing we might get paid less than we would for other work we’re qualified to do, but we’re passionate about teaching. We didn’t expect to be treated the way that we have been by Texas politicians. Teachers have watched health insurance costs rise faster than salaries. Lawmakers speak of stripping away the modest retirement benefits we were promised in exchange for lower salaries. All this while teachers pay out of our own pockets for school supplies the government doesn’t provide. Many friends, excellent teachers, have had to leave the work they loved because they couldn’t afford to do it anymore. Is that fair?

These issues don’t affect just teachers. There are 5.4 million Texas children, most not yet old enough to vote, counting on us to fight for their right to learn.

My fellow educators and I are fired up about voting. We want to model what we teach, showing our students what informed and engaged citizens are supposed to do.

As a teacher, I want a say in who decides how much to fund our schools, how to test our students, and whether to divert public money to private schools rather than “support and maintain a system of free public schools,” like the constitutional requirement states.

I want to pick leaders who think what I’m doing is important, who respect my right to vote and participate in a professional association, and who will fund my retirement and healthcare as promised.

It’s troubling that anyone would push back against efforts to turn out the vote. Why are some elected officials and interest groups afraid that educators like me — a lifelong Republican — will vote this year? If they’ve been acting on behalf of Texas students, they have nothing to fear. My hunch is that they haven’t been pulling for our kids and know their actions may come home to roost this election year.

I’m registered to vote. I’m researching candidates. I’m going to vote.

Teachers, parents and eligible students: Please join me in voting for public education. Remember to register by February 5th to vote in a Texas primary, where almost all of our elections are decided as a result of gerrymandering.

Texas students are counting on us.

The Association of Texas Professional Educators has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Carl Garner

Teacher, Mesquite ISD