February 28, 2008
In all of public policy, there is nothing purer or more noble than the school bake sale.Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I love the products – too much, probably, for someone who’s trying to be a half-marathoner. And sure, homemade cookies and cakes tend to put a better impression on almost anything.But forget, if you can, about the sugar and flour and sweet goodness. Think about the effort.Parents, teachers, and administrators all come together out of love for their school and their kids and awareness of what those schools and kids need. They confront a problem that has befuddled generations of elected officials – the gap between the costs of education and the money to educate.And they do something very simple about it.They bake.There are all sorts of fundraising efforts going on all the time at every school. In our house alone, my wife Liz has spent a ton of time over the last couple of years raising money for our sons’ lacrosse teams. That kind of work is the finest tribute to a school. Because, frankly, it’s the state’s responsibility to make sure our kids have what they need to learn in classrooms, on playing fields, and on a stage. And as I’ve argued manytimesbefore, the state leadership doesn’t do nearly enough to give all students what they need, or to help schools do what they’re supposed to do.So parents, teachers, and administrators take matters into their own hands. They do the little things they can do themselves. The schools are better off. And, best of all, the kids can feel secure that the adults care enough to work this hard for them.
I’ve been thinking about this stuff a lot this week. On Friday, I was tremendously honored to be named Legislative Advocate of the Year by the Texas PTA. Rep. Rob Eissler, from the Woodlands, was also recognized from the House side.The Texas PTA is a group that represents parents, teachers, and others across the state who are concerned about children and education. And as with every PTA, its members do a whole lot more than sell cookies.The group is one of the strongest advocates for children and schools that we have in Texas. You can understand why – good, caring teachers, and engaged, loving parents are at least as important to a child’s education as the Legislature’s education policy. In the last legislative session alone, the Texas PTA played a vital role in passing one of my bills to clean up harmful school bus emissions. They also worked with Republicans and Democrats – or, as their kids refer to them, parents – to improve nutrition, physical fitness, and child safety. And they always provide a critical voice whenever the legislature looks at school finance, education reforms, and other difficult policy issues.My favorite part of the Texas Declaration of Independence states unequivocally that “unless a people are educated and enlightened, it is idle to expect the continuance of civil liberty, or the capacity for self government.” Like its people, Texas needs a strong school system that educates and enlightens our children. I believe there’s no higher calling for a state legislator than to give schools the resources they need and pay teachers what they deserve. But we also must form a close bond with the parents, teachers, and PTAs across the state to prepare kids for the opportunities awaiting them in schools, colleges, and universities. PTA members know their communities. They know their children. They love those kids in ways that only parents understand, and prepare them in ways only teachers and their students comprehend. So, while I’m pretty proud to receive the award, it really belongs to the parents, teachers, and administrators in Texas’ schools.God bless you folks.
Speaking of lacrosse, it’s been so long since I gave you all an update on the Austin High team that you’re probably in some terrible withdrawal. It makes me a little guilty.Some people think politics dominates the Watson house. But this time of year, it’s lacrosse. This will be the last year on the team for my oldest son, Preston, who’s a team captain. Also, Liz is the President of the club, as she has been for a couple of years.For the last two years, Austin High has made it to the state Final Four. Last year, the team was the only public school representative in that last group. I think they look pretty good this year.Anyway, Austin High won its first district game Wednesday night. I’ll be sure to keep you posted.