Parties in Texas must tread lightly on education

Posted Friday, Sep. 27, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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norman Education will be a big issue in next year’s statewide political races — count on it.

It always has been, and several pending policy and funding issues mean it will be again. But aspiring officeholders, especially those who would be governor or lieutenant governor, must be careful what they ask for.

On the surface, education policy issues still seem to show a natural Republican-Democrat divide. But dig deeper and you’ll see that neither side has a clear path.

First, look what’s happening in the House: Several long-serving members, including people from Speaker Joe Straus’ leadership team, have announced their retirement. More announcements could be coming.

Paul Burka, the longtime Texas Monthly executive editor and political writer, wrote on his Burkablog earlier this week that he sees “a distinct possibility of another conservative supermajority” in the House for the 2015 session.

Burka also wrote that “Tea Party fervor could sweep the state, as it did in 2010,” and be successful in driving some mainstream Republicans out of the Legislature.

If he’s right, neither traditional party has a lock on policy making, on education or any subject.

Republican and Democratic nominees for governor — which more than a year away from the election looks everything like it will be Greg Abbott, the current attorney general, for the GOP and now-state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth for the Dems — face some difficult choices even in appealing to their own base, according to polling by Texas Tribune.

In a Thursday report, Texas Tribune polling director Jim Henson, head of the Texas Politics project at the University of Texas at Austin, and Joshua Blank wrote that despite all the attention paid to the state’s economic successes, voters see education as “an unhealed sore spot” for Republicans.

A mixed bag of solutions — charter schools, testing and graduation requirements — had some success in this year’s session but didn’t really solve the key problems.

Abbott’s primary opponent, Tom Pauken, emphasizes vocational education, and other prominent Republicans favor school-choice legislation.

Texas Tribune polling shows blacks and Hispanics favor college preparation over vocational education, meaning a push there could further alienate those voters from the GOP.

Liberal Democrats traditionally have fought against school choice, but if Davis were to go in that direction this time she would be going against a majority of blacks and Hispanics, who poll in favor of school choice.

The bottom line, Henson and Blank write, is that the Republican nominee will have to overcome negative views on education built up during the past decade of GOP dominance in Austin. A Democrat might have more of an edge but would find it difficult to maintain the party’s traditional base and even more difficult to move beyond that base enough to sway the election.

More on Medicare

Last week, I wrote about Medicare confusion, which hits me as I approach my 65th birthday and become eligible for the federal program. Fortunately, not all readers shared my confusion.

Several readers pointed out that I was wrong when I said you have to sign up for (and pay $104 a month for) Medicare Part B when you sign up for Part A. Part A pays hospital bills and Part B pays doctor bills.

Those readers saved me a lot of money.

You don’t have to enroll in Part B if you’re covered by a group health plan at work, like I am. And you don’t suffer a financial penalty when you eventually leave that group plan, so long as you sign up for Part B soon afterward

Some nice folks at the Social Security Administration office in downtown Fort Worth helped me get the right Medicare parts.

Mike Norman is editorial director of the Star-Telegram. 817-390-7830 Twitter: @mnorman9

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