Denying the attack on public education


Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick continues to peddle the political fiction that his anti-public education priorities are somehow benefiting school children AND protecting taxpayers. Although ideological true-believers in his political base may swallow that garbage without gagging, the exact opposite is true.

If Patrick has his way in the war of wills with the House over budget and education policy, public schools will remain woefully under-funded and many homeowners will continue to see their school property taxes increase.

In a recent political email, Patrick bragged: “We’re reminded that Texas is a conservative model for the nation, where we are working every day to keep taxes and regulation low and our government lean and efficient. During this legislative session, I am fighting to uphold our conservative values by passing a fiscally responsible state budget, lowering property taxes for all Texans and reducing the franchise tax.”

If Texas is a “conservative model” for the nation, heaven help the nation. Patrick and his allies are working to keep state government lean, mean (in the hurtful sense of the word) and very inefficient by passing an irresponsible state budget that will keep thousands of school classrooms overcrowded, thousands of teachers and other school employees under-paid and hundreds of thousands of school kids with little or no health care.

Should Patrick prevail, who knows how many foster children in state care would remain at risk, despite all the political hand-wringing over deaths and vulnerabilities in the under-funded Child Protective Services system.

Homeowners and others who pay school property taxes – which already pay for most public school costs in Texas – would see their local taxes continue to rise, not drop, without a greater state investment in public education, which Patrick opposes.

The lieutenant governor and his Senate allies even refuse to tap into the Rainy Day Fund. That’s a $12 billion mountain of taxpayer money that Patrick wants to sit on ala King Midas or Uncle Scrooge.

The only bit of truth in Patrick’s statement quoted above was in the last four words, the part about his effort to make future cuts in the business franchise tax. That’s true but potentially disastrous because if that happens, the funding dilemma for school districts and the tax burden for local property owners will worsen.



Retired educators need more than kind words and fond memories


For school teachers and especially for education retirees, legislative talk can be cheap, very cheap. And with every “teacher appreciation” resolution in the House or the Senate and every “fond” memory a lawmaker shares about a “favorite” teacher, the legislative debt to educators just grows deeper.

The fact that most active teachers in Texas are woefully underpaid is bad enough, but the plight of thousands of school retirees is even worse. For some, it will become downright treacherous and life-threatening if the Legislature doesn’t do something this session to save their health care coverage without bankrupting the retirees.

As the Houston Chronicle pointed out in an editorial, linked below, the school retirees’ health care plan, TRS-Care, “is going to fail without legislative action” and the “impact on retired educators will be severe.” So far, there is no real legislative fix in sight this session, and the clock is ticking.

In the Senate, Sen . Joan Huffman of Houston is sponsoring SB788, which supposedly would address the problem, but not really. This is the same Sen. Huffman who also is sponsoring SB13, a separate bill aimed at crippling teacher and other public employee advocacy organizations.

Huffman’s SB788, the TRS-Care bill, is what the Chronicle editorial calls “a disingenuous half measure that will barely keep the plan alive while devastating the financial condition of some retired teachers, or worse, leaving many without any health care at all.”

Huffman’s bill would increase state funding by about $300 million, far short of the $1 billion shortfall that TRS-Care is facing. Under her plan, the deductible for an individual retiree would jump from about $400 to $4,000. Keep in mind the average retired teacher receives only about $2,035 a month in retirement benefits. Most retired teachers don’t receive Social Security, and many aren’t old enough to get Medicare.

SB788 is not a fix for what is rapidly becoming a crisis.

Texas’ 262,000 retired teachers spent much of their adult lives securing Texas’ future with barely adequate – or worse – pay. They are entitled to a secure health care system, and there is more than enough money – about $12 billion– in the state’s Rainy Day Fund to keep TRS-Care solvent and increase funding for public schools. Both are critical issues the Legislature has persisted in putting off.

Many of us have stories to tell about favorite teachers, and legislators are no exception. But unlike most of us, legislators are in a position to provide a secure retirement for educators. Fond memories and congratulatory resolutions don’t pay medical bills.



Attorney general joins the attack on educators


Attorney General Ken Paxton, who went to court to defend Texas’ very bad school finance system, is still attacking educators. He is doing so, I suspect, to try to keep himself relevant to right-wingers – his political base — as he awaits trial on securities fraud charges.

Although Paxton’s personal legal troubles have been keeping his lawyers busy, the attorney general found time to weigh in on the issue of whether teachers and other public employees should have the freedom to spend their own money as they please, by deducting their association or union dues from their paychecks, at no cost to taxpayers.

Paxton agrees with Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that the long-standing practice should be stopped and has as much trouble telling the truth about the issue as Abbott and Patrick do.

Paxton’s name is on an oped, published in The Dallas Morning News, filled with errors and misrepresentations about the dues deduction issue.

“Protecting workers’ rights is one of the government’s most important jobs,” Paxton says in the first sentence. Then he spends the rest of the article defending the state leadership’s efforts to undercut workers’ rights.

Here are a few of his misrepresentations:

Paxton: Public employee unions “spend millions of dollars on partisan activities.”

The truth: Membership dues in TSTA and other public employee unions and associations in Texas are NOT spent on partisan political activities. Membership dues in TSTA and other organizations are spent on professional development, liability insurance and other job-related services. Political activities are conducted by political action committees, which are funded by separate, voluntary contributions, not dues money.

Paxton: “The Supreme Court has ruled that workers cannot be forced to make political donations.”

The truth: TSTA and other unions DON’T force members to pay dues or make political donations. Again, both dues payments and political donations to PACs are voluntary.

Paxton:  Public employees must “opt in if they want to contribute to a union.”

The truth: Workers already opt in if they want to join TSTA or another employee organization or union. If they wish, they also voluntarily choose to have their membership dues automatically deducted from their paychecks.  This is the practice that Senate Bill 13 – supported by Paxton, Patrick and Abbott – would discontinue for most public employees.

Paxton: Quotes  Abbott, “Taxpayer money shouldn’t be used to support the collection of union dues.” Patrick also has claimed dues deductions cost taxpayers money.

The truth: Employees’ dues deductions essentially cost governments nothing,  according to the author of SB13, and a fiscal note that says the bill would provide no cost savings. And if there were any costs, current law would require unions and employee associations to reimburse school districts and other governments for any administrative costs.

Another truth: Automatic dues deduction is a secure and convenient way for educators and other public employees to pay membership dues to the organizations of their choice. Abbott, Patrick, Paxton and their allies are trying to punish educators and other employees for opposing bad legislation, including a bill to siphon tax dollars from public education for private school vouchers.

SB13, which has been approved by the Senate and is before the House, would let police, firefighters and EMS workers continue to have membership dues in their unions voluntarily deducted by their government employers.

Why? Because these groups are perceived as more politically friendly to the Abbotts, Patricks and Paxtons. That may be, but these employee unions also are fighting SB13 because they know this is an effort to single out employees for political punishment and they could be next.




Dan Patrick disrespects educators, then misleads public


It is bad enough when an elected policymaker promotes a bad policy. It is worse when an elected policymaker promotes a bad policy and then tries to mislead the public with, shall we say, “alternative facts” about it. (I am trying to be semi-polite here.)

Misleading the public is an everyday occurrence in the political realm (a major reason we now have a tweeter-in-chief in the White House). But this time I am talking – again — about Dan Patrick, and if you think I write too much about Dan Patrick, take your complaints to Dan. He gets a lot of my attention while the Legislature is in session because he is full of awful policy ideas to undermine public education, weaken educators’ livelihoods and smother children’s learning opportunities.

As you may already know, one of Patrick’s pet bills this session is Senate Bill 13, which is designed to punish educators and most other public employees who voluntarily choose to join unions and other professional associations, such as TSTA. The bill includes educators because they and their employee organizations have historicilly fought – and still are fighting – Patrick’s long-sought effort to take tax dollars from public schools for private school vouchers.

SB13, approved by the Senate last week, would repeal the long-time ability of TSTA members and members of most other employee organizations to voluntarily choose to have their membership dues automatically deducted from their paychecks by their government employers. It’s a secure and convenient way for busy government workers to pay membership dues in the organizations of their choice, in the same way as many government workers make charitable contributions.

Even the main sponsor of the bill, Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston, has admitted the practice costs taxpayers nothing. And, if it did, current law would require TSTA and other unions and associations to reimburse school districts and other governments for any administrative costs. The fiscal note on SB13 is negligible.

But Patrick refused to acknowledge the lack of cost in his weekly political email, in which he touted Senate approval of the bill and bragged about some of his other efforts to drag Texas back into the 19th century.

“It is clearly not the role of government to collect union dues, and certainly not at taxpayer expense,” he wrote.  (The bold type is mine. The “alternative fact” is Patrick’s.)

Patrick also ignores the real fact that police, firefighters and EMS personnel are exempt from the bill. That means they can continue to have membership dues in their unions voluntarily deducted by their government employers.

Why? Probably because Patrick perceives them as more politically friendly and chooses to pick winners and losers among public employees. To their credit, though, police and fire unions also are fighting SB13.

The fate of SB13 now rests with the House, most of whose members, I hope, have more respect for teachers, school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, correctional officers and other public employees than Patrick and Huffman do.




  • Calendar

    April 2017
    M T W T F S S
    « Mar