Governor doesn’t want to “waste” more money on education


Far from being a champion for more education funding, Gov. Greg Abbott has made remarks suggesting he thinks Texas and other states are “wasting money” on educators and school kids.

On a stop in Midland to promote his new book, the governor again defended the Texas Supreme Court decision that upheld Texas’ inadequate and unfair school finance system. And, according to the Midland Reporter-Telegram, he indicated he will not make improvements in education funding a priority during next year’s legislative session. Quite the contrary.

Despite new National Education Association rankings that show Texas spends about $2,700 less than the national average in per student funding, Abbott implied that spending more would “waste more money.”

Without offering any evidence, he said: “We have found from the states that spend more money – that waste more money – that they have a far inferior product. Money is not always the answer. You have to be smart. The focus is on educating children, not writing checks.”

What’s so “smart” about educating children in overcrowded classrooms, with outdated instructional materials and outdated technology? What’s so “smart” about over-testing and under-funding? What’s so “smart” about treating students like widgets?

Get your head out of the sand, governor.

“Transformational education reform” gave us STAAR


Anytime anyone uses the words, “transformational” or “reform” in reference to education, beware. Be extra careful if both words are used, and if the word-dropper is someone like Rod Paige, duck and cover.

Some of you may not remember Rod Paige, but surely you know his legacy. It’s the standardized testing plague now known in Texas as STAAR. As U.S. Secretary of Education, Paige helped then-President George W. Bush concoct and market that mind-numbing Kool Aid that has done about as much to poison educational progress in Texas as the legislative majority’s budget cuts.

The testing regime, a requirement of the since-repealed No Child Left Behind Act and spread throughout the country under the false guise of education “reform,” has wasted countless days of valuable classroom instruction time and dulled the joy of learning for countless school children subjected to endless test preparation drills and worksheets.

The same Rod Paige’s name popped up this week on an oped, published in the Austin American-Statesman, calling for “transformational, top-to-bottom reforms” for school funding in Texas. The article, mercifully, didn’t propose more testing, but it didn’t call for an end to it either.

No, this time, Paige – with co-author David Dunn, executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association – was talking about school finance, but only in a very limited sense that was not what most people would consider “transformational.” Instead of calling on the Legislature to raise funding overall for a woefully underfunded public education system, they mainly focused on seeking increased state funding for charter schools.

Public charter schools, they said, receive on average $1,000 less per student than traditional public schools and now serve more than 227,000 students.

Lost in the discussion, however, is the fact that charter schools on average do not perform any better or worse than traditional public schools, and they are a minor part of Texas’ school funding problem. (Besides, the disparity in state funding hasn’t stopped private, for-profit charter school operators from popping up all across Texas, eager to get their hands on school tax dollars.)

Charter students represent only a small percentage of Texas’ 5.2 million public school enrollment, and per-student funding for that total enrollment averages about $2,700 less than the national average, with many school districts spending even less than that.

First things first. Even though the Texas Supreme Court – in an opinion full of $100 words and empty political rhetoric – has washed its hands of school funding, the Legislature must do what’s right for all the school children of Texas, not just charter students. During next year’s session, lawmakers need to begin work on an adequate and fair funding plan and drastically reduce or eliminate STAAR testing. It’s time to invest, not test, to replace the Kool Aid with resources that all school children and educators really need.





Trump just gave us a Texas reason to vote against him


We really don’t need any more reasons to vote against Donald Trump. Our cup already runneth over. But here’s another one anyway. Trump announced today that, if elected president, Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett will be on his short list for potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees. Yikes!

Willett is the justice who wrote last week’s Texas Supreme Court decision that Texas’ bad school finance system was constitutional, taking the legislative majority off the hook to do the right thing for Texas school children. It was a lot of political hand-washing that will leave Texas schools under-funded.

Imagine what kind of damage Willett could do on the big Supreme Court. Maybe not as much damage as Trump would inflict on the country from the White House, but I think you get the idea.


School kids need more than wishful thinking


Just for fun, let’s pretend we are members of the Texas Supreme Court and indulge in a little wishful thinking. Let’s close our eyes for a minute and hope that Dan Patrick resigns as lieutenant governor to begin a new career as a school custodian.

I am imagining a more useful, productive job for Dan, a job that actually would provide some public benefit from his fascination with bathrooms, and give the rest of us some relief from half-baked education “reform” ideas.

But we shouldn’t impose Dan on the kids, folks, not even in our dreams, and it’s not going to happen anyway. Patrick isn’t going to resign simply because we may wish it any sooner than the legislative majority is going to address problems with Texas’ school finance system simply because the Supreme Court said it hoped the Legislature would do that.

We may never know if Supreme Court justices were as concerned about the state of public education in Texas as they suggested in their published opinions or were simply using their words to shield an ideology, but what matters is they took the governor and the legislative majority off the legal hook for any kind of funding improvements.

The nine justices unanimously agreed that the school finance system, despite serious problems, met “minimum constitutional requirements.”

“I, for one, remain hopeful that more progress is yet to come,” Justice Eva Guzman added in one of the concurring opinions. But, from an enforceable legal standpoint, she may as well have been wishing for a visit from the Tooth Fairy.

The fight over school funding has left the legal arena and will continue to have to be fought in the political arena – the Legislature, the governor’s office and the court of public opinion.

TSTA and other public education advocates will continue to fight that fight, but it will be difficult. For the past 30 years, all the significant improvements that the Legislature has made in school funding have been prompted by court orders. And the initial reaction to the court’s decision from some state leaders wasn’t encouraging.

Gov. Greg Abbott, who as attorney general initiated the state’s school finance appeal to the Supreme Court, wrongly called the ruling a “victory for Texas taxpayers,” including local property taxpayers who are still on the hook to compensate for the state’s funding deficiencies. And Lt. Gov. Patrick will renew his efforts to peddle private school vouchers and other unproven schemes that would take more funding from public schools rather than increase it.

House Speaker Joe Straus applauded the Supreme Court decision, but he also signaled interest in looking beyond it.

“It’s important to remember the court also said there is ample room for improvement,” Straus said. “The Texas House will continue working to deliver value for taxpayers and provide an outstanding education for our students.”

We shall see.





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