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From Classroom To Campaign Trail, Jennifer Lee’s Fight For Public Education 

Jennifer Lee is a Texas public school teacher, a single mother, and the type of person who showed her son Obama’s acceptance speech when he was only a baby. “I just wanted him to know that at some point in America, we had a lot of hope and I hope to bring us back to that point,” Lee says. 

During the Texas Democratic Convention earlier this month, Lee, the Texas Democratic candidate for House District 55, connected with RA News for an interview. Surrounded by Democrats from all over Texas, the atmosphere in El Paso was nothing short of hopeful.

Lee was no different and for her, running for office felt like an obligation, a matter of when, not if.

“I just said, you know what, if you want something different, you gotta do something different. If you’re tired of your life the way that it is and you’re tired of things the way that they are, do something different,” Lee says. “Stop doing the same thing.”

As a Texas public school teacher, Jennifer Lee has been fighting for years against detrimental education policies. She is no stranger to the legislative process and recounts how, even from her hospital bed during the COVID-19 pandemic, she attended a school board meeting via Zoom, oxygen tubes in place.

“For years, I have been fighting against terrible education legislation. I’ve held rallies, gone to the commissioner’s court, and attended school board meetings because I believe in us and in public education. I wouldn’t devote my entire life to it if I didn’t,” she says. 

Over the past few years, Texas’ public education system has faced numerous challenges, from online classes and mask debates to controversies over teaching race and sex, book banning, and school safety concerns following the Uvalde shooting.

In the last survey conducted by the Texas American Federation of Teachers union, nearly 70% of 6,000 Texas educators surveyed said they were ready to quit their jobs. Low pay was the biggest cause of dissatisfaction, the survey found. Average teacher salaries in Texas lag the national average by about $7,000.

In the 88th Legislature, lawmakers failed to raise teacher wages, after GOP leaders tied the funding to private school vouchers – a policy that Democrats and rural Republicans have historically been against.

Lee emphasized the need for greater investment in education: “If we say that we care about children the way that I’ve heard so many Republicans say they care about children, then care about them by investing in them. Care about them by investing in the people who work with them.”

Gov. Abbott failed to use the state’s historic $33 billion budget surplus to boost school funding due to a contentious voucher proposal that ultimately failed to pass. In response, the governor vowed revenge on rural Republicans who opposed this policy, investing millions in same-party challengers – successfully ousting eight incumbents.

One of Abbott’s targets, Rep. Hugh Shine from House District 55, lost to Hilary Hickland, an activist mother endorsed by the governor. Lee, who had always wanted to run for office, but didn’t imagine it would be this year, realized that the seat was open and that Hickland, backed by Abbott, aimed to implement his voucher policies. 

“My first thought was I do not and I cannot tolerate her being the only name on the ballot in November. It has to be me. It has to be both of us. Because I knew that she would end up just being unopposed otherwise. And so she is part of the reason why I chose to run,” Lee says. “To me, it was unethical for her to be unopposed.” 

Unfazed by Abbott’s vendetta, Lee is determined to challenge his agenda.

“Public education is something I’m always watching, and they’re weakening it year after year after year. And that’s very intentional to get us to this point where people say, ‘Oh man, public schools are just terrible. We should start supporting private schools and charter schools.’ I’ve seen the long game for a while now,” Lee explains. “I saw where we were going and I’ve been fighting it every step of the way. And now this time, I just have to get in front of it and say, ‘No more. We’re not going to keep doing this.’ Because I’m tired of, ‘Oh my gosh, they came out with this bill, I gotta fight that.”

With her campaign, Lee plans to confront public education challenges head-on, advocating for stronger support and funding for public schools.

In addition to tackling vouchers, Lee is committed to fighting for increased special education funding, robust investment in career and technical education, changes to the basic allotment, and ensuring that everyone in public education earns a livable wage.

“It seems like instead of having teachers at the table, teachers have always been on the menu,” Lee says. “I need more of my fellow educators to get off the platter and scoot up a chair. Because this is about us.”

Jovanka Palacios
Jovanka Palacios
Jovanka Palacios, a Mexican-American Politics Reporter and Managing Editor at RA's Gun Violence Watch, unveils the Capitol's inner workings. Focused on Public Education and Gun Policies, she passionately advocates for informed dialogue, delivering concise, impactful insights into the intricate political landscape.


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