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Josh Tutt
Texas Senate District 18
Status

Challenger

Party

Democrat

Occupation

Computer Maintenance Technician

Address

6170 Private Road 4018, Somerville, TX, 77879

Additional Information


Candidate Survey Responses


RESPONSES TO THE 2022 ATPE CANDIDATE SURVEY:

1. If elected, what will be your top priorities for public education?


1) Increase teacher pay. We need to adequately compensate our educators so they can thrive without needing second jobs, and such that we can recruit and incentivize new educators to enter the workforce in order to best serve our students. This incentive is especially needed in areas that are underserved, such as urban or rural communities with a low socioeconomic index. We need to hire additional support staff with good wages as well to enable our teachers to focus on teaching.

2) Trust teachers. Our collective confidence in our education system has been eroded by targeted school board attacks, reactive legislative censorship stemming from “Critical Race Theory” propaganda, and inflexible standardized testing. During the pandemic, when schools had to rapidly adapt to an at-home virtual environment, our educators came under scrutiny exacerbated by rigid requirements for standardized testing, performance scores, and attendance requirements that were all tied to school and teacher funding. These policies do not help our educators. In fact, they create a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts that hinders our education system. We need to trust the teachers.

3) Fulfill our promises to retirees. Retirement benefits need to keep up with rising costs to ensure our past educators, who gave us decades of their lives, are well taken care of. These cost of living adjustments shouldn’t be dependent on the whims of political jockeying

2. What are your recommendations for funding public education, including securing the necessary revenue to sustain the improvements made by House Bill 3 in 2019? Do you believe additional funding is needed?

Public school funding should significantly increase. According to EducationData.org, “Texas K-12 schools rank 43rd in spending and 40th in funding.” Objectively, we have a long way to go. I see four main areas that need better funding: teacher compensation, retirement benefits, support staff, school facilities, and equipment funding. Teachers shouldn’t need second jobs or be paying for school supplies out of pocket. Students should have textbooks that aren’t outdated and falling apart. School buildings need renovations for accessibility. And we shouldn’t need to rely on parents and “Back to School” sales to stock our classrooms with supplies. This isn’t mysterious or hard to solve. We know our kids deserve the best quality education. It’s time that we invest in it.

Hyperpartisanship in our state legislature leads to federal funding being declined, misused, or even misappropriated towards a general fund instead of being used to provide for our students. An honest accounting would show us places where funds could be reallocated, such as identifying corporate property tax loopholes that put an undue burden on homeowners. Legislators with a focus on supporting public education are dearly needed to advocate for our state school system.

I’d like to see Texas legalize casino gambling and use taxes from that to fund education much in the same way the Texas Lottery does. Texans currently travel to Louisiana, Oklahoma, or other states for gambling, and it makes no sense not to allow that money to be spent in-state.

I believe it’s time that Texas legalize marijuana, and taxes on that industry could also contribute to education funding. We know we need to increase school funding. We know legalizing marijuana would create a new revenue source for Texas. We can turn these two problems into a solution for each other.

3. How would you address the challenge of rising health care costs facing Texas educators and ensure that active and retired educators have access to affordable health care?

One way we could subsidize and address current teacher and retiree health care costs would be to have Texas accept available federal funding for Medicaid expansion. In the case that those funds are earmarked and cannot be used for this purpose directly, accepting those funds would free up other resources to be reallocated. Additionally, we need to recognize that providing sufficient quality and affordable healthcare is a cost-saving measure (in addition to being the right thing to do) because access to care reduces the need for costly emergency care. As a worker for the Texas A&M Forest Service (under the Texas A&M University System), I pay into TRS and so I am invested in heeding the advice of retirees.

4. Do you believe the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) should be maintained as a traditional defined benefit pension plan for all future, current, and retired educators, or do you support converting TRS to a defined contribution plan that is more like a 401(k) plan, in which future benefits are not guaranteed?

I support keeping it as a defined benefit plan. When I ask teachers what they think about TRS, they passionately tell me they do not want it to become a 401(k) style plan. When I hear teachers loudly tell me what they think about an issue that directly impacts teachers, I need to listen. Teachers deserve retirement benefits they can rely on.

5. What do you feel is the proper role of standardized testing in the Texas public education system? For instance, should student test scores be used for teacher pay, school accountability ratings, evaluating teachers, measuring student progress, etc.?

Standardized testing is *not* the way we should be evaluating schools or teachers. Especially during the pandemic, we know that all sorts of socioeconomic variables are significant contributing factors to standardized testing scores, and that they are not an accurate reflection of teacher performance or school evaluation. Evaluations should be based on per-student growth and improvement, and metrics need to include social and emotional growth as well as academic subject mastery. I’ll be entirely honest; I’m unsure what sorts of tests or surveys are the most accurate or effective means of measurement. But I know a lot of teachers and teacher associations who can advise me. When I listen to them, what I hear is that standardized testing must end as a means of evaluation and merit-based compensation.

6. Would you vote to create any type of voucher, tax credit, scholarship, education savings account, or other program aimed at paying for students, including any subpopulation of students, to attend non-public K-12 schools, such as private or home schools?

I would not support vouchers or similar programs. Public funds and taxpayer money should be spent on our state public school system. The State of Texas has an obligation to support our public schools and to provide them the funding they need to thrive. Private and for-profit schools should operate within their own fundraising potential. However, acknowledging that state funds are currently supporting some such schools, and that these schools employ Texas teachers and teach Texas students, I’d want the state to make a graceful withdrawal from financial support, in order to give time for those teachers and students’ parents to be able to adjust accordingly.

7. State law allows educators and other public employees to voluntarily choose to join professional associations such as ATPE and have membership dues deducted from their paychecks at no cost to taxpayers. Do you support or oppose letting all public employees continue to exercise this right?

Yes, I support letting public employees opt into making payroll deductions for such memberships. I’m interested in learning more about how paycheck deductions work with employers who may be hostile or unwelcoming of unions or other such professional associations, as I want to ensure education workers’ rights to participate are protected. For example, I elected to pay my union dues with Texas State Employees Union by other means, as I was unsure of how my employer would react if they knew I was filing to become a union member.

8. What role, if any, should charter schools have in the public education system, and do you feel the number of charter schools operating in Texas should be reduced or expanded?

Like private schools, charter schools fill a role in our education system, by virtue of the fact that Texas students and Texas teachers are currently enrolled and employed there. Charter schools can serve as a supplement to existing public school services, and (so long as they meet quality standards for the students’ education as well as the workers’ job quality) I have few qualms with them. When charter schools discriminate, selectively recruit their student body, or when they fail to meet minimum standards upheld by public schools, there’s a problem.

I believe that public funds should go to public schools, period. Charter schools, in my opinion, need to meet the same expectations of public schools and should not be operating on taxpayer funds. Redirecting state funding to public schools will naturally reduce the number of charter schools. My intention is to increase standards and reallocate public funds to public schools; reducing charter schools is a consequence of this, not necessarily an intention.

9. How much freedom should school districts have to make decisions during disease outbreaks, such as requiring face coverings and immunizations or transitioning to remote instruction?

In general—COVID-19 pandemic notwithstanding—disease outbreaks are very local, and so local decisions made at the school district level are the most effective, and school districts (with the participation of administration and a locally elected school board) should have the freedom to make the decision they need to protect and operate their district.

The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, is a global outbreak, but the effects are still local. While the state should ensure minimum safety standards, local districts should not be stripped of their independence to make the choices they need according to the local situation. The state should not be obstructing the local districts’ ability to safeguard their students and workers.

Local school districts should have the freedom to implement face coverings, remote instruction plans, and other public health and safety policies that exceed state minimum guidelines.

10. What do you believe is the proper role of virtual education within the public education system? Do you believe full-time virtual education should be expanded, and if so, under what circumstances?

I believe that virtual education should be an available option for public education for use when deemed necessary by the district or educators. However, I’m wary of seeing it become a permanent feature, as I worry it will exacerbate current issues of classroom size and teacher-to-student ratios. I’m worried it would be used as a means to reduce student services such as school lunch programs, library access, counselor support, and other in-person benefits of a public school education. Teachers I’ve spoken with report being overburdened by trying to manage an in-person class and a remote class simultaneously, demonstrating ways that virtual education can be implemented poorly and/or in an unsustainable manner. Furthermore, widespread adoption of virtual education is not equitable in places where many students do not have reliable access to high speed internet service at home. Other factors—such as privacy, quiet, space, or access to school supplies—also must be taken into consideration.

11. What do you feel should be the state’s role (versus the role of school districts or individual educators) in decisions about public school curriculum and instructional materials?

The State of Texas’ role in curriculum and educational materials should be to set minimum standards via the State Board of Educators, not to enact restrictions and limitations on what and how educators can educate. Our teachers are trained and experienced in how to teach complicated topics with professionalism. Texas students deserve to know a comprehensive truth behind our history, and we need to trust teachers who are trained and studied in how to do so with the respect and nuance these conversations deserve. Classroom censorship, especially enacted by the state legislature, is an extremely worrying, slippery slope that we need to pull back from immediately.

12. The COVID-19 pandemic and additional instructional support needed to remediate students’ learning losses have placed additional strain on public schools’ staffing needs. How would you work to ensure classrooms are appropriately staffed, teachers’ workloads are manageable, and planning time is not sacrificed amid these challenges?

Texas has a substantial rainy day fund, and if ever there was a time that deserved using it, it should be now, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully we are nearing the end of the pandemic, and we should be bolstering our education and health systems to recover from this global hardship. We can use the funding to hire and adequately compensate teachers, substitutes, and support staff. We alleviate the strain on our public schools by increasing the staffing to make sure teachers are not overburdened and have the support they need from hall monitors, tech support workers, and administrative assistants.

In order to mitigate further strain on our educators, we need better public health and safety precautions. Safety precautions during the pandemic have been wildly insufficient. If we aren’t doing everything we can to protect our kids and the people we entrust them to, then we are failing a sacred obligation. Our legislators need to demonstrate more compassion and science-based flexibility during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us so many cracks in our education system, and I’m worried we’ll lose many educators as they leave for other industries. Texas needs a plan to retain, recruit, and train talented educators. We need to provide pay and benefits to encourage and enable them to stay. We cannot afford to lose these valuable workers due to workplace abuse.

Additional Comments from Candidate on Survey


COMMENTS SUBMITTED IN RESPONSE TO THE 2022 ATPE CANDIDATE SURVEY:

Our future depends on a strong public education system. I sincerely hope I get the opportunity to defend and fight for that brighter future.