State Rep. Mary Gonzalez of El Paso is one of the biggest friends and advocates that public schools, educators and students have in the Texas Legislature. She has voted to increase school funding and reduce standardized testing and, as a member of the House Public Education Committee, represents the best interests of neighborhood schools.
So, why would a group calling itself “Texans for Education Reform” (or TER) try to defeat Gonzalez’s re-election bid? According to the El Paso Times, TER so far has contributed $100,500 to Chente Quintanilla, a former legislator who is Gonzalez’s opponent in the March 1 Democratic primary for the House District 75 seat.
As a House member a few years ago, Quintanilla voted for a school finance plan that created a permanent education funding shortage, and he voted to increase high-stakes testing. He also voted for the tuition deregulation law under which college tuition has soared, puncturing the higher education dreams of many young people from middle- and low-income families. And he voted against strong regulations for charter schools, which would have protected against tax dollars being diverted to charter operators more interested in profit than education.
The reason Texans for Education Reform is supporting Quintanilla so heavily against Gonzalez is actually pretty simply. Texans for Education Reform is not about improving public education and never has been. It’s goal, instead, is to take tax dollars from neighborhood public schools in favor of expanding corporate charters and promoting other unproven privatization schemes, the types of things that Rep. Gonzalez recognizes for the scams that they are. So, in TER’s view, she has to go.
TER also supported the new law requiring school campuses to be graded A-F on the state’s accountability system. This law that will do absolutely nothing to improve public education, but it will add stigma to the low-income children whose under-funded campuses will get most of the Ds and Fs.
The president and chair of Texans for Education Reform is Florence Shapiro, a former chair of the state Senate Education Committee, under whom testing flourished while school funding dwindled. One board member is Rod Paige, the former U.S. Education Secretary under President Bush who ushered in No Child Left Behind and the high-stakes testing era.
Another board member is Houston businessman Dick Weekley, founder, chairman and CEO of Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR), a similar, misnamed business group that has succeeded in its campaign to make it very difficult for everyday Texans with legitimate complaints against negligent or abusive business practices to seek justice in the courthouse.
TER is similar to TLR. Both are misnamed because neither has much to do with true reform and both are supported by some of the same business people. In TER’s case, the goal is to divert tax dollars to corporations and entrepreneurs by declaring public schools a failure, under-funding them and then privatizing education services. Rep. Gonzalez stands in their way.
Another potential problem with Quintanilla, which doesn’t seem to bother TER, is a report that he is under investigation by the state attorney general’s office for alleged voter fraud. According to a recent report on KVIA-TV in El Paso, the investigation stems from a civil lawsuit filed against him alleging that he unlawfully delivered ballots for homebound seniors in a justice of the peace election.
TER’s most recent contribution to Quintanilla was in the form of $55,500 worth of in-kind services, routed through the Forma Group, for advertising, direct mail, political consulting and other campaign assistance. Forma recently hired state Rep. Marisa Marquez, who is retiring at the end of this term from House District 77. Interestingly enough, Marquez received large contributions in previous elections from TER’s cousin, Texans for Lawsuit Reform.
Now, apparently, Marquez, who is still in office, is helping out TER and Quintanilla against Gonzalez.