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'Teacher voices' call on lawmakers to stop ignoring public education

By Meredith Shamburger
July 12, 2017 at 11:46 p.m.

Harmony ISD kindergarten teacher of 35 years Carla Shipp attends the Use Your Teacher Voice rally Wednesday   at the Gregg County Courthouse.  Working and retired educators gathered  in support of the teacher retirement system and school funding.

They came to the Gregg County Courthouse on Wednesday holding signs, wearing red and voicing indignation for state lawmakers who they said no longer seemed to respect public education.

The message that active and retired teachers and school staff sent during a Wednesday rally was one of caution: Take heed or ignore us at your peril.

"You are the largest voting bloc in the state of Texas," organizer Suzanne Bardwell, a retired teacher told a crowd of more than 700 people at the Use Your Teacher Voice pro-education rally. "Let me remind you of this: One in 20 Texans is a member of the Texas Retirement System, and teachers and public school employees vote.

"We've got to begin using our teacher voices, people. 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."

East Texas teachers, school administrators and school staff rallied ahead of the Legislature's special session, which begins next week. The event was designed to highlight concerns about teacher pensions and health insurance and a lack of public education funding from the state, among other things, and to start getting more teachers politically involved.

Teachers at the event said they were concerned about where education in the state is going and whether they'd get benefits they'd been promised and had been working toward all their careers.

"It's scary," said Daingerfield ISD teacher Brenda Tittle. "I may have to teach until I'm 100."

Nancy Loyd, also with Daingerfield ISD, said she believes rallies such as the one Wednesday would help their cause ahead of the special session.

"The ones that go to Austin next week, I think it will help," she said. "I may go myself."

Tittle agreed.

"As many teachers as we have, we can make a difference," she said.

Tim Lee with the Texas Retired Teachers Association spoke about some legislators who he said don't care about public education — but also about legislators who have been trying to stand up for education and have been waiting for teachers to rise up.

Teachers have to work hard to keep supporters in their jobs and teach opponents that voting against education comes with consequences, he said.

That consequence: "You're going to treat us with respect or you're fired!"

Longview ISD Superintendent James Wilcox encouraged the crowd to vote and to encourage their spouses and friends also to cast ballots.

He noted only about a million votes in the Republican primary this past year set the slate of state officeholders — but with teachers' numbers, they have nearly three times as many potential votes.

"You are disrespected, your profession is disrespected, what you've given your life to is disrespected by people out for political gain of the people that fund their campaigns because they don't think you'll ever do anything about it," Wilcox said.

He pointed to former Gov. Mark White, who he said was voted out of office mainly because of teachers.

He said it is imperative that teachers start standing up for themselves, because there are people in the Legislature who don't support education.

"The first bill to take away the teacher retirement plan was during George W. Bush's first term as governor," he said. "They've been back every session after then. They're not quitting. Every session. Every session. Every session. Because we haven't taken a stand. ... We have to challenge them; no one else is going to do it."

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