On Thursday March 12th, Mr. Heineman was not seated in his office with the door wide open. Rather, he was representing an organization called TACAC (Texas Association for College Admission Counseling) in the act of protesting the repeal of the Texas Dream Act.
“We are an organization of both high school counselors and college advisers who meet directly with the people who handle the admission and financial aid opportunities of students in college,” said Heineman.
In 2001, Governor Perry signed the Texas Dream Act, which allowed undocumented students who had lived in Texas for at least three years and graduated from a Texas public school to pay in-state tuition to attend any public Texas university.
“There are three movements afoot in the Texas legislature to repeal the Texas Dream Act,” explained Heineman. To find out more about SB1819, which would repeal the Texas Dream Act, see Beyond Our Walls article by Willa Smith.
“What that would do is require that students that are in our classrooms right now, are being educated grades K-12 in Texas public schools, when they are seeking higher education, would not have access to affordable education because they would be required to pay out of the non-resident international student fees, which are substantially greater.”
While there was a proposal for a national Dream Act that didn’t pass, as Heineman puts it, “The Dream Act provided a pathway to citizenship for the children of nonresidents.”
On Thursday, Heineman rose early and gathered with his fellow educators on the steps of the capital. TACAC held a forum on the south steps of the capital hosted by senator Eddy Lucio. They also heard from three University of Texas at Austin students that were able to attend university as a result of The Dream Act.
Aside from talking with students like these, Mr. Heineman’s other job took place inside the building. Guided by the questions provided by TACAC, he met with five different representatives who were there on behalf of various senators to describe his experiences and why he feels strongly against the repeal.
“I’ve always believed that anyone who’s seeking an education as an opportunity to better the world and themselves and the people around them should have access to that,” said Heineman.
Although he only met with them for a few minutes each, he did his best to make an impression.
“I’m not asking that all colleges do the same thing, I’m asking that we as citizens, we as a public entity think about the idea that those are going to be our future, whether you think they should be or not.”
Because Heineman met with a number of senators throughout the day, their opinions varied significantly, which added a new dimension to his presentation and his work.
“In particular, it was important for me to voice to these representatives and senators how important I thought it was to pay attention to the fact that these were children,” said Heineman. “They are not to be held to the same standards of behavior as parents who might be aware of legal ramifications to actions–these are children who didn’t have a choice, but are nonetheless a part of our community.”
He always began by asking the representatives that he met with what they remembered of their own high school guidance counselors. Upon hearing that most people said something along the lines of, “I don’t, they were too busy to help me,” Mr. Heineman was able to say, “The reason I’m here today is that I’ve made a career out of wanting to help students and I want to help all students.”
While many representatives were partisan, Heineman recalled that they were all polite, yet firmly attached to whatever stance their senators took, which often had to do with fiscal responsibility.
“I invited them to come to Ann Richards…if they wanted to see a public school where we are stewarding students whose opportunities would be marginalized. We have students at are school who would be greatly affected by this legislation,” said Heineman.
Although he has not not made an annual ritual out of legislative protest, he has felt an intense responsibility for standing up for his values ever since he entered his career path.
“I think it’s important for those of us who are beneficiaries of the good ratios, of the good support of the public/private partnerships that we have, that we should speak for those that might not be able to,” explained Heineman. “There are certainly a lot of people that do what I do that couldn’t afford to take a day off. I’ve made a career choice committing myself to these issues that I feel I need to follow up on it.”
While the repeal of The Dream Act could have a significant effect on a number of students at Ann Richards, Heineman sees the work he did as stretching far beyond our school.
“The reason I lobby on behalf of this cause is that the children of these nonresidents, these undocumented students, are not living here as wealthy citizens,” said Heineman. “In my experience here at the Ann Richards School, they are students who are working very hard to access all the opportunities they can to be productive, contributing members of society.”
Not only does Heineman see the effects of this legislation with regard to Ann Richards and Austin, Texas, but he has a strong reaction to the long term consequences.
“Unfortunately if what you do is you set up the system so that poor children aren’t given the same choices, that you’re tracking the poor children into skilled labor and you’re tracking wealthy children into education, you are creating the schism of the system that created revolutions,” he said. “It’s doing what we do for the least of our people that will make the biggest difference.”
Above all, Mr. Heineman values the simple principle of equal opportunity for every student. And when this equity goes awry, he feels a responsibility to intervene.
“I think if we talk about the value of sisterhood and the idea of everyone here looking out for everyone, it would be wrong not to take some of your own time and energy to speak on behalf of those that you see who are being marginalized. I’m inspired to fight on behalf of those that are potentially going to be negatively affected by any new legislation. I wasn’t asking for anything other than being treated the way we’ve treated them here at Ann Richards.”