When Lake Highlands resident Meredyth Childress boarded a bus for Austin with 50 other Richardson ISD PTA moms, students, teachers and school board members early Monday morning, she knew they’d be meeting with legislators to passionately advocate for public schools. Texas PTA Rally Day happens every two years at the state capitol, and Childress has attended before. What Childress did not know – never expected – was that her video of that meeting would be seen on the evening news and social media before the bus ever made it home.
You can view Childress’ cell phone video above or on Youtube here.
Childress said the RISD reps reserved a room to chat with their elected officials, but Rep. Angie Chen Button and Sen. Van Taylor left without answering questions. Rep. Linda Koop calmly faced the group and shared information, said Childress, but the meeting became contentious when questions were put to Sen. Don Huffines, a supporter of vouchers.
One woman told Huffines it wasn’t right to send money to private schools that was intended for public schools.
“What makes you think that’s your money?” asked Huffines. “Sixty-two percent of all taxes are paid by businesses.”
“What are you all afraid of?” he asked attendees.
Childress said the encounter made a lasting impression on her daughter, Lucy Lavigne, an 8th grader at RISD’s Richardson West magnet school, and on the other students attending Rally Day.
“These kids know this is not how an elected official should respond to the constituents in his district,” said Childress. “When Lucy asked a question about state assessments, he cut her off and told her she should buckle up to get better grades. She gets all A’s now. Besides, these state assessments aren’t tests you study for and the kids know it.”
Childress, who also has 3 children at Merriman Park Elementary, said the group’s experience Monday is likely to have a lasting effect.
“Lucy has had an interest in politics since she was 3. She has a dream to be president – that is her goal. These students have learned their voice really matters. They need to rise up. They are constantly being heard. Kids do have a voice, and people are backing them up.”
I asked Childress, who served this year as RISD Council of PTAs 1st VP and is slated to become next year’s president, if she’s glad she made the trip, even with the dust up.
“Absolutely. We had 50 people this year, and 2 years ago we had just 4. I hope to take even more next time. We want our legislators to know that we support public education, and we want transparency. We will not have money cut from our public schools. Our Texas PTA has an agenda involving cyberbullying, vouchers, state assessments, school rankings, powdered alcohol and other subjects. The RISD Council of PTAs is 20,000 members strong. We want the state to know we have a voice for all 38,000 kids in RISD.”
Monday evening, Huffines’ spokesman Matt Langston issued this statement:
“While the policy was right, Senator Huffines’ tone and delivery today did not live up to the level of civil discourse that he always expects of himself and others. Senator Huffines is unapologetic in his support for education choice, because it’s a policy that supports students. He will not hide from passionate or heated debate in the issue. Where other politicians might have run, Don Huffines stayed and endured the ambush-style attack, then calmly answered more questions for 15 minutes, including questions from students.”