Did author of Second Amendment order campus gun ban?


James Madison, the author of the Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment right to bear arms, unfortunately wasn’t around to weigh in on the recent legislative debate over whether firearms should be allowed on college campuses.

But he did attend a meeting of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors, on which he served, in October 1824 when that very same issue came up. The minutes of that meeting report the following decision of the governing body:

“No Student shall, within the precincts of the University…keep or use weapons or arms of any kind, or gunpowder.”

Another member of the Board of Visitors who was present was Thomas Jefferson, another one of the nation’s founders who doubtlessly also had an opinion of what the Second Amendment did and didn’t mean.

The lengthy minutes, linked below, don’t reflect what, if anything, Madison or Jefferson may have said about the issue. But I can’t imagine that the campus gun ban would have been adopted without the agreement of the two former U.S. presidents.

The other members of the governing board “didn’t have to look far for an originalist perspective” on the Second Amendment, wrote Matt Valentine, who teaches writing and photography at the University of Texas at Austin. Valentine’s article in Politico, “Texas Just Made College Less Safe,” called the historic anecdote to my attention.

Modern politicians of all stripes like to claim – regardless of how hare-brained their ideas – that they are carrying out the intentions of “our forefathers.” In truth, though, the guns-galore crowd behind Texas’ soon-to-be campus carry and open carry laws doesn’t really care what our founders would have done. Nor, obviously, do they care that much about campus safety.


Schools get $1.5 billion; hoarders get $18 billion


The $1.5 billion that the Legislature appropriated for public education (on top of enrollment growth) in the new, two-year state budget certainly is better than a $5.4 billion cut, which is what happened four years ago. But it is nothing for lawmakers to brag about, particularly when you stack it up against $18 billion.

(Some lawmakers, however, are bragging.)

But, getting back to the $18 billion (billion with a very big B), that is the amount of taxpayers’ money that the Legislature left unspent, sitting in the bank, doing no one any good. That figure includes an estimated $11.1 billion in the Rainy Day Fund, which my friend and Texas Monthly writer R.G. Ratcliffe suggests should now be renamed the “Texas Hoarding Fund.”

And, the $18 billion includes what is left after the legislative majority spent $3.8 billion on a property tax cut that will be a joke for the average homeowner and a franchise tax cut that will be significant for many businesses.

In case you haven’t seen R.G.’s blog, which ran during the closing days of the session, it is linked below. In it, he calculated that a stack of one billion one-dollar bills would be about 68 miles tall, and a stack of 18 billion one-dollar bills would be about 1,224 miles tall, or the distance across the state from Texarkana to El Paso and halfway back. I will take his word for the math.

More significantly, though, R.G. calculated that the $18 billion the state is hoarding “would pay for an entire year of police and fire protection, garbage collection and wastewater service, parks and libraries and all other incidental operations for the cities of Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio – combined.”

Imagine what that $18 billion (or even just half of it) could have done if the Legislature had appropriated it for education, health care and other under-funded programs in the state budget.



Wondering what teachers think about STAAR testing


Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, a Republican member of the State Board of Education from Dallas, is wondering what, if anything, the board can do to improve STAAR test scores.

My immediate response would be for the conservatives on the board to stop rewriting history or ignoring science the next time the board reviews a set of textbooks or revises curriculum. But Miller had another idea – form a committee of teachers to discuss the problem, The Dallas Morning News reported. Teachers are the real education experts, after all, and they have to administer the tests and prepare students for them.

Perhaps Miller has heard the growing roar from parents, Republicans and Democrats alike, against standardized testing. Unfortunately, though, many of Miller’s Republican colleagues in state government – particularly the lieutenant governor and the state Senate majority – probably would consider her idea more heretical than anything else.

In their view, teachers are for campaign photo-ops. When they are looking for information about educational policy, they are more likely to turn to the pseudo, self-styled “experts,” privateers seeking to rake off tax dollars for vouchers or some other privatization scheme. Most of these “experts” haven’t set foot in a classroom in years.

So, I give Miller credit for acknowledging the real expertise of teachers, even though there isn’t much the State Board of Education can do about testing policy. That’s primarily a job for the Legislature.

I can’t speak for every teacher, but I suspect that, given the chance to tell the State Board of Education or the Legislature what to do about STAAR test scores, many teachers would tell officials to dump the STAAR and quit using standardized tests to punish students, teachers and campuses.

Here is a workable alternative. The state should replace the STAAR with a diagnostic test, administered at the beginning of the school year, to help teachers learn their students’ strengths and weaknesses, and then get out of the way. Leave teachers alone to do what they do best – teach. And, I don’t mean teach to a test. I mean help their students learn how to learn and experience the sense of real accomplishment that comes with that.




Heard the bad joke about tax cuts?


Educators can appreciate tax cuts as much as anyone else, but they also know when they are being taken for a ride. The “tax relief” emerging from this legislative session will give a substantial break to many businesses, while barely affecting most other Texans.

Don’t be fooled by the reported $3.8 billion worth of the total tax reduction package, the total chunk it takes out of the state budget. That’s combining everybody’s share. What the tax cut will be worth to each individual is what matters to most individuals, and the joke will be on the average tea partier out there – and almost everyone else.

If voters approve a constitutional amendment in November, the standard homestead exemption on property taxes will be increased from $15,000 to $25,000. That means the average homeowner will receive a tax cut of about $125 a year, or about $10 and pocket change a month.

You can spend that on a big bucket of popcorn at the movies every month. But not much else.

To be sure, increasing the homestead exemption is the best way to reduce property taxes fairly, but property tax cuts are only one part of the tax-reduction package. The primary beneficiaries of the entire package will be businesses, not individuals. Business owners will see a real reduction — 25 percent — in their franchise tax rate, not just a few dollars a month. These are some of the same people who allegedly value the contributions of public schools and wring their hands over student test scores but nevertheless put a higher priority on lower taxes than they do on adequate education funding.

The Legislature is increasing public school funding by $1.5 billion over enrollment growth for the next two years. That is a step in the right direction, but it still leaves education funding in Texas – which spends less than most states per student — with a long way to go. And now, going forward, the tax cuts mean we will have less revenue to spend on schools and other public needs.



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