His sanctimony aside, Dan Patrick is to blame for school finance failure


Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick waxed sanctimonious after the final defeat of the House’s effort to improve school funding but don’t be misled by his demagoguery. The blame for the school finance failure rests squarely with Patrick.

Speaker Joe Straus and the House majority tried to enact legislation to improve state funding for public schools and take an important first step toward real school finance reform. But Patrick was all about snooping in school bathrooms and trying to force the House into wasting tax dollars on private school vouchers, even after it was clear that a bipartisan House majority was adamantly opposed to vouchers. At the eleventh hour, Patrick had the Senate majority remove funding from the House’s version of HB21, the school finance bill, and attach a special education voucher instead. Then he blamed the House for killing school finance when House members called his bluff.

“I simply did not believe they (the House) would vote against both disabled children and a substantial funding increase for public schools,” he said. Hogwash.

Patrick’s “funding increase” claim was actually a billion dollar cut from the $1.6 billion the House had proposed. And his special education voucher amendment would have been useless for most special education kids because private schools don’t have to provide special education services and those that do are exempt from federal standards designed to make sure the services provided are appropriate.

The House actually had tried to improve funding for disabled kids and all other students by approving additional funding for public schools, but Patrick and the Senate majority killed that effort. That means public schools, including special education classrooms, will remain under-funded, and the burden on local school property taxpayers will continue to increase.

Whenever Dan Patrick opens his mouth about public education and property tax “relief,” he has absolutely no credibility. And the school children of Texas – all the school children of Texas – will be better off if their parents quit believing him.


Abbott’s ideology trumps family ties; school kids will pay


Gov. Abbott is still denying the obvious — that the new “sanctuary cities” law that he promoted and signed will result in discrimination against tens of thousands of Hispanics and members of other minority groups who are legal residents of our state. These will include thousands of Texas school children and their families.

The governor and other supporters of this ill-advised law also will continue to deny the inevitability of police profiling, but it will happen. When police are threatened with criminal penalties if they don’t help federal agents enforce immigration laws, and they are allowed to ask the citizenship status of people they detain for minor offenses, including routine traffic stops, some officers are going to start zeroing in on people of color. Most of these people will be citizens or legal residents.

Meanwhile, many school children who were born in the United States of immigrant parents who may or may not be legal residents are going to worry whether their parents are going to be there for them when they get home from class.

Even as he denies the obvious, Abbott also is very touchy about it whenever a reporter raises the issue. His wife, Cecilia, is Hispanic, and Abbott’s Hispanic mother-in-law was widely featured in a TV ad promoting Abbott among Hispanics during his 2014 campaign.

Abbott tried to avoid critical questions by signing the bill via Facebook, not in the usual public ceremony that governors hold to show off their priority pieces of legislation. But a governor can’t hide forever.

In a recent public event, Abbott told reporters he wanted “to make sure that neither she (his wife) nor her family is going to be stopped and detained inappropriately.”

I’m not worried about Abbott’s family, which will largely remain insulated from the repercussions of the new law. I am concerned, though, about the Texas school children who belong to immigrant families and will have little, if any, defense against a discriminatory law motivated by the governor’s narrow ideological politics.

He should be ashamed of himself.




Why vouchers leave special ed kids behind


In a last gasp attempt to revive school privatization before this legislative session ends, voucher advocates are offering to limit education savings accounts, or vouchers, to special education kids. But they are peddling false hope.

If this voucher proposal is enacted, it will do almost nothing to help the vast majority of special education children in Texas because most private schools, even with vouchers, are simply unprepared – or unwilling — to give these kids the services they need.

National Public Radio broadcast a story this week about the voucher program in Indiana, one of the country’s largest, which should serve as a warning to anyone who is attracted to these so-called “choice” alternatives.

In the first place, a voucher program doesn’t provide a real choice to most parents. The real choice, as the Indiana program shows, resides with the private schools. Many private schools in Indiana don’t accept voucher students, and most of those that do are religious schools. These schools, not the parents, decide which kids are admitted through a variety of entrance requirements, including grade point averages, entrance exams and even statements of faith – an uncomfortable, perhaps unconstitutional, mix of religion and tax dollars.

Kids with behavior problems need not apply, and in many private schools, most children with special needs are equally unwelcome.

Public schools admit all children with special needs because the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires them to. But the ADA doesn’t apply to private schools, and in Indiana, most private schools are shutting their doors to special education kids with vouchers because, even with tax dollars, they don’t have the resources or the interest to try to educate them.

According to the NPR report, more than 15 percent of the public school enrollment in Fort Wayne is in special education. The average special education rate at private voucher schools in Fort Wayne is 6.5 percent. In Indianapolis, 17 percent of the public school enrollment is in special education, while special education students account for only 7 percent of the enrollment in Indianapolis’ private voucher schools.

Those numbers are typical of Indiana as a whole, and there is no reason to think it would be any different in Texas.

“The gen ed (general education) student is in a private parochial school. The special ed student’s here (in public school),” said Wendy Robinson, the public school superintendent in Fort Wayne.

Yes, thousands of special education students in Texas have been denied the services to which they were entitled because of the arbitrary cap placed on special education enrollment by the Texas Education Agency several years ago. The cap was imposed because the legislative majority has refused to adequately fund Texas’ public schools.

If legislators really want to help special education children in Texas, they will improve public education funding, not try to deceive parents with a costly voucher program that would be worthless for most special education kids and most other students as well.


Charter schools seeking more tax money


Despite evidence to the contrary, some people still subscribe to the perception that charter schools are the “silver bullet” solution for education, as the competition between charters and traditional public schools for limited state tax dollars remains intense.

In truth, some charters are good, others aren’t and still others have failed – for financial mismanagment and/or academic shortcomings.

After the Texas Legislature in 1995 created charters as an alternative to traditional public schools, some charter operators stepped forward and used the freedom they were granted from state regulations to offer innovative and successful programs for their students.

Other charter operators stepped forward to try to profit from the tax dollars that came with the students they enrolled. Free from restrictions like class-size limits and teacher certification requirements that govern traditional public schools, they eagerly cut corners on academic quality and either failed or should have failed. Some never should have been granted the charters that allowed them to operate.

Unlike traditional school districts, charters can’t levy taxes to raise money for operating costs or to build classroom buildings and other facilities. But on average they receive more funding per student than traditional schools, and they can use the Pemanent School Fund to lower their cost of borrowing money for construction projects.

Charter advocates have made a big push during this legislative session to win direct state funding for facilities construction. Sen. Donna Campbell filed a bill to give charters more than $400 million for that purpose. The Senate approved the bill, but only after reducing it to $100 million and splitting the funding between charters and traditional school districts.

TSTA opposes the measure, now before the House, for a couple of reasons. One, there would be no way under current law for taxpayers to recoup their money if a charter operator uses tax dollars to build a school facility and then goes bust. Also, the Legislature shouldn’t be giving more money to charters when it hasn’t even decided how well it will fund traditional public schools, where the vast majority of Texas children will continue to be educated. The Senate budget for which Campbell voted probably wouldn’t even cover enrollment growth. The House would do better by spending about $1.6 billion of the Rainy Day Fund to increase public school budgets, but even then most schools would remain under-funded.

A House-Senate conference committee continues to seek a budget compromise.

Former State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff, among others, has thrown cold water on the charter operators’ efforts to change the rules against facilities funding.

“This was the deal charters signed up for when they opened their business,” Ratliff once told the Texas Tribune. “They knew what the law was, and they told the Legislature, ‘We can do a better job for less money.’ Now they’re coming back and saying, ‘Maybe not.’”




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