State legislature candidates talk education at forums

Candidates for state legislature discussed a variety of topics related to public education in the Lone Star State in forums held in McAllen and Mission last week.

Coordinated by the Raise your Hand Texas Foundation, topics at the event included charter schools, education finance, school security and standardized testing.

The forums included candidates for Texas House District 41 and Texas House District 36.

TEXAS HOUSE DISTRICT 41

Challenging incumbent state Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, for House District 41 is Republican John Guerra, an OB-GYN.

Bobby Guerra’s March primary opponent, Democrat Richard Gonzales, did not speak at the forum.

Asked about his opinion on charter schools in Texas, Bobby Guerra referenced news of IDEA Academy’s plans to spend heavily on luxury items.

“I’m sure most of you saw recently news about a charter school who wanted to lease a private jet. I was appalled when I read that. They also had box seats at the Spurs game, and I was appalled to read that, when our schools need so, so much, so much more than private jets and private boxes at Spurs games,” he said. “You know, I understand that charter schools receive private donations and grants, but I do not believe that leasing a jet is something in the core mission of what our charter schools have set out to accomplish.”

Bobby Guerra took a strong stance on calling for more oversight by the legislature.

“Bottom line is charter schools need to have more oversight by the Texas Legislature, and I can almost assure you that that issue will be coming up this next session,” he said.

John Guerra agreed with his opponent’s opinion on IDEA’s spending and said he was committed to giving residents a large amount of freedom in choosing what institution they send their child to.

“There’s multiple types of education that’s going on here, so as I said, we all have the opportunity in this great state of Texas in picking and choosing as to what school we want our children to go to,” he said.

John Guerra said ensuring that traditional institutions and charter schools remain comparable in educational quality is also important.

“Some time some people don’t have that opportunity and they have to be in the independent school district, and so in the independent school district it has to be satisfied and be the top notch schooling that can compare to these other schools,” he said.

The candidates were also asked about the subject of government-funded school vouchers, which allow parents to use public funds to pay for children’s private school education. Texas does not currently have a voucher program, but efforts have been made to establish one in the state for years.

“I’m totally against vouchers,” Bobby Guerra said. “Article 7 of the Texas Constitution states that it’s the duty of the Texas Legislature to ensure an efficient and free public school education system; vouchers goes against that mandate.”

John Guerra did not take a hard stance for or against vouchers in his reply, and did not actually use the word voucher when responding to the question. He did reiterate his commitment to school choice and acknowledge that educational funding was a question for the legislature.

“I do not want to take away from other people their choices. That’s up to each and every person and they’re family,” he said. “If someone wants to take their child to a charter school, that person should have that opportunity. As far as how the money is, that’s a different situation, and that would have to be legislated at that point, but it hasn’t, and so at this point what I’m really saying is each and every person has that opportunity to go and do which school they want to do.”

TEXAS HOUSE DISTRICT 36

Challenging incumbent state Rep. Sergio Muñoz Jr., D-Pharr, is Democrat Abraham Padron, who runs Safeguard Insurance.

Abraham Padron and Sergio Munoz Jr.

The candidates were asked about their feelings on the state’s accountability system, which assigns schools a ranking from A to F often based on the results of standardized testing.

Muñoz criticized standardized testing in his response.

“I personally have been opposed to it and have worked over the last sessions actually to reduce the number of standardized tests,” he said. “Because my belief is that teachers should be preparing students for life, not necessarily how well they do on the test, and that doesn’t truly measure how great a success that person is going to be going forward.”

Muñoz said he’d worked to reduce the Texas education system’s reliance on testing while in the legislature. He said he thinks the accountability system is a poor way of assessing schools.

“The accountability system is definitely something that we need to work to get away from, because the true measure of a school and the work of our teachers is not going to be based on a test,” he said.

Padron was also critical of the accountability system, but he did note that the Valley seemed to benefit from it.

“While I don’t like the accountability system, the A through F how we rate our schools … I can tell you this much: our schools in the Rio Grande Valley have benefited from it. Most of our schools are A and Bs,” he said. “Nobody wants to work with a D and an F school, or go to a school that’s a D or an F. Throughout the state of Texas, if you’re Hispanic, the best place to get an education is right here in the Rio Grande Valley, cause our schools are As and Bs for the most part.”

Padron criticized standardized testing as well, singling out the STAAR test.

“I’ve spoken to students, I’ve spoken to teachers — nobody likes this, this needs to change,” he said.

The candidates were also asked about school safety. Both candidates gave similar responses, calling for increased physical security at schools and increased mental health prevention efforts.

“When it comes to bullying, not only on social media but even in person, we’ve heard of all these unfortunate instances that are occurring within our community, and I think for us at the state we need to continue to investigate, to look at the root cause of why individuals are doing that. If we can address it at an early age, then I think prevention would be key,” Muñoz said.

Padron listed specific school security measures he would consider if elected.

“Placing maybe more school marshals in our schools. Metal detectors. Arming teachers, we’ve talked about that. We’ve talked about maybe security measures, physical barriers. Those are things that we can certainly look at,” he said.

Videos of the forums are available at the Raise Your Hand Texas Advocate – Rio Grande Valley Facebook page.