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June 14, 2017
James Largent Conservative Leadership?
by Superintendent Dr. James M. Largent 
I am a lifelong Texan – born and raised in our great state.  Loving parents taught me right from wrong and the importance of the Golden Rule.  By all accounts, most people view me as a conservative person with traditional Texas values.  But, I am confused.  I thought Texas conservatives were for smaller government, local control, and cutting wasteful spending.  Yet, what I am seeing in Austin, under our current state leadership, is just the opposite of this.
The attack on local control is obvious.  On Governor Greg Abbott’s list of priorities for the upcoming special session are items that would directly take away the authority from local government bodies to make decisions they believe are best for their communities.  If I were a locally elected official, I would wonder what role the state leaders believe I play.  Evidently, they do not think locally elected officials should be able to set their tax rate or set regulations for their towns and cities.  The governor obviously believes that the state – not local government – should even determine whether or not trees should be cut down on properties in cities and municipalities.
As it relates to schools, the governor’s list includes giving teachers a $1,000 raise, but the caveat is that local schools will find this money by “re-prioritizing” our budgets, which equates to about a $1 billion unfunded mandate from Austin.  It is nice of the governor to want to grant teachers a raise, but he conveniently places the onus on local school boards to magically find this money in our already cash-strapped budgets.  By the way, the recently adopted state budget will have public school funding at the lowest level in history.  Only 38% of the state’s budget is designated for schools, while billions of dollars of local tax dollars will be sent to the state through the “Robin Hood” program to provide additional revenue to the state.  In addition, the state has billions of dollars in the “rainy day fund,” and the governor has many millions in the enterprise fund to allow him to entice businesses to Texas by giving them millions in upfront money.
The legislature has again singled-out teachers, attempting to prohibit educators from voluntarily having professional organization and association dues deducted from paychecks.  Even the bill author admitted not having one person from any school district and not one school employee complaining that this was a problem.  I am truly disappointed in the “war on public education” from our elected leaders.
We are once again going to re-visit the twenty-year old voucher scheme.  Vouchers will take local taxpayer dollars and redistribute them to private schools with no accountability, no audits, and no way of assuring that students are getting a quality education.  Students with disabilities would even give up their federal protection from discrimination if they accept a voucher.  It will create a huge, new bureaucracy, going directly against the “small government” ideology that I, and many conservatives, believe in.  I have written extensively about this issue in the past and the many, many reasons it is a bad idea.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s newest “hot topic” issue is the bathroom bill.  This one really bothers me.  I have seen Governor Patrick say in interviews that he “does not want tenth grade boys and girls showering together in high school locker rooms.”  What a ridiculous statement!  To insinuate that any school in Texas has -- or ever will-- allow high school boys and girls to begin showering together in our locker rooms is asinine.  The transgender issue is obviously something Governor Patrick does not understand, yet he has chosen this issue to single out a very small fraction of our citizens in which to direct his hate and enflame his base by repeating half-truths and outright lies.  As we have been doing for over one hundred years in Texas, local administrators and locally elected officials can handle the issue of bathroom usage by our students.  We really do not need the lieutenant governor and the legislature’s help on this one.
As Texans, we have the opportunity to vote for and elect the people who represent us at the local, state, and national level.  I believe that many of the leaders we have in Austin today have abandoned our values.  Instead, they have fallen into the political trap of taking care of their donors, rallying their base, and trying to turn Texas into a top-down, Austin-led government that takes away decision making from locally elected officials – the same leadership from Washington they say they despise.
The question is: will voters remember this the next time they have an opportunity to vote, or will they continue to allow a very small fraction of eligible voters to decide the direction of our great state?  If voters don’t begin to take action, we will continue to see the erosion of traditional Texas conservative values.
(The views reflected in this article are mine.  I am the superintendent of Granbury ISD, but I do not assume that my views reflect those of the GISD school board or our employees.)