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As Election Day approaches, some Texas voters focus on school safety

Early voting ends Friday. Election Day is Nov. 8.
Early voting ends Friday. Election Day is Nov. 8.

From KERA News:

For a time in the boiling cauldron of Texas politics and education policy, Critical Race Theory, or CRT, was hot. Now, not so much.

At its peak, Republicans alleged it was a racist policy indoctrinating young white students. Democrats called it a fake issue, while Republican Glenn Youngkin used it to help win the governor’s seat in Virginia last November.

His upset victory over incumbent Democrat Terry McAuliffe led Republicans across the country to run with it, including Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

”I fought to defend the rights of parents in their child’s education,” Abbott told a crowd of supporters in San Antonio in May. “And it is why I signed not one but two laws in the state of Texas, banning the teaching or use of Critical Race Theory in every subject, in every grade and every public school across the entire state.”

Across the state, school districts have said they don’t teach CRT, but that did little to shift perceptions. Democrats, like gubernatorial hopeful Beto O’Rourke, began hearing CRT questions while campaigning.

“They're not teaching CRT in grade school right now,” he told voters at a campaign event. “They may be teaching it in law school where it is appropriate, but they're trying to scare us about it nonetheless. I don't know why, but if we do get scared, we're not focused on reading retention or the fact that seven out of ten 4th graders are not reading at grade level in the average Texas classroom right now.”

If you are a suburban mom, anti-CRT laws may have won you over, according to political watchers. However, that's not the case for Catrenna Wisner. Her kids attend Carrollton-Farmers Branch schools.

“I do feel that, as African-Americans, we do need to know a lot about our history,” said Wisner, after leaving a CFBISD school board meeting. “I don't think that's taught enough in the school, about where we come from to where we are right now. I do feel we touch on a little bit of it, but not as much as we should.”

Republicans have largely dropped CRT and other education topics. Associate political science professor at Southern Methodist University Matthew Wilson said there’s a good reason.

“They want to keep it simple,” Wilson said, “because they think that that the recipe for winning is to make the whole election a referendum on Joe Biden's stewardship nationally, in terms of economic prosperity and public safety. Anything else becomes noise.”

Wilson said the loud and clear mid-term strategy is and has been to run against the party in power, because it works. In the past quarter century, he said there have been maybe two exceptions when the economy was great, but this isn’t one of them. Inflation in the U.S. is at a 40-year high. In time, Wilson said those education concerns may reappear, but not yet.

Adding to the economic woes?

“Taxes," said Christi Beck, a voter in the Fort Worth Independent School District. ”The property taxes. Absolutely they're too high. That would be a big one for me…hopefully lowering.”

O’Rourke and Abbott have heard voters like Beck. Both have accused their opponent of raising property taxes, and each says he’ll lower them.

As for crime, when it comes to education, school safety is the top issue, especially after the Uvalde massacre.

Nineteen students and two adults were killed in the May shooting at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School.

It’s well known that O’Rourke wants tougher gun laws and Abbott doesn’t. State lawmakers approved millions of dollars in school security measures to further secure buildings, lock doors and vestibules, add cameras and more.

Carrollton-Farmers Branch parent Carrie Birmingham says that’s not enough.

“We've talked about locking doors,” Birmingham said. “I feel like that's not working, and immediately after Uvalde happened, my initial reaction was, we need some more gun laws. Guns is like the most important issue to me. Those other issues are important to me too, but none of that other stuff is important if you're not safe.”

Birmingham said in this election, she’s truly one of those rare, undecided voters. She vows she’ll make a decision in time and vote.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues. Heâââ
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