Someone educate the governor, please


I know many Texans who are full of themselves, and sometimes I see one in my mirror. But the notion of Texas exceptionalism has grown absurd, fueled by a state leadership that would rather promote ideology than lead us to a prosperous future.

No, Texas isn’t going to follow the lead of British voters and try to secede from the United States, Gov. Greg Abbott told a radio host last week. No fooling?

Texas can’t secede, period. The Civil War settled that notion 150 years ago, although the governor’s political party had to beat back a politically delusional attempt only a couple of months ago to resurrect the idea in the party platform.

Abbott doesn’t talk about secession, but he does promote something called Texas “sovereignty” and, on the same radio show, declared: “What Texans believe in is that we need the United States to be more like Texas. In fact, I believe America longs to be the way Texas is.”

Think about how absurd that statement is.

Although some Texans may want the rest of the United States to follow them over the cliff, many of us would rather the Texas brand espoused by Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton be expunged, not exported. The rest of America doesn’t long to “be the way Texas is.”

Other states don’t want to be the leader in adult residents without a high school diploma. They don’t want to be the leader in residents without health insurance. They don’t want to lead the nation in the number of prison inmates and incarceration rate. And, they don’t want to rank in the bottom tier of states in resources they invest in their children’s education.

They also don’t want an attorney general who is under criminal indictment for securities fraud. They don’t want a lieutenant governor who can’t wait for his next opportunity to cut money for public school funding. And, they don’t want a governor who would rather criticize and sue the federal government than exercise any real leadership of his own.

That is the brand of Texas “exceptionalism” the rest of the country can do very well without.

Abbott’s job is to make Texas better. Let the rest of the states take care of themselves. Many of them, in fact, are doing a better job than Texans are seeing at home.




Think about STAAR the next time you vote


Attorney General Ken Paxton’s attempt to win dismissal of a lawsuit brought by parents over STAAR testing is disappointing, but not really surprising. It’s part of Paxton’s pattern of opposing school kids, their parents and educators.

As a legislator in 2011, Paxton voted for $5.4 billion in school budget cuts. More recently, as attorney general, he defended in court the state’s inadequate school finance system, which the Texas Supreme Court recently upheld. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t bet money against the Supreme Court eventually throwing out the STAAR suit as well.

Educators, parents and students are continuing to feel the consequences of recent elections. In Paxton’s case, that’s the 2014 election, in which he was a poorly qualified candidate swept into office by heavy, straight-ticket Republican voting. Now, is a poorly qualified attorney general, continuing to under-cut public education.

Paxton also is under indictment and awaiting trial on securities fraud charges. Whatever happens to his criminal case, he needs to go away but isn’t in a big hurry to do so. For the record, TSTA supported attorney Sam Houston, Paxton’s opponent, in the 2014 general election because we knew Paxton was bad news and Houston valued the importance of public schools.

State Education Commissioner Mike Morath also is trying to get the STAAR lawsuit dismissed. He was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott, who also prefers testing to adequate school funding and was promoted to higher office by the same voters and on the same day that Paxton was.

Parents have a right to sue over bad policy decisions and to get angry when the Texas Supreme Court says it’s OK for state leaders to continue to shortchange their children’s classrooms. But the best way to protect against bad educational policy is on Election Day, and parents, as well as educators, have missed many recent opportunities.

Wasting money on discrimination instead of investing in education


You may recall that Gov. Greg Abbott suggested not too long ago that Texas may be “wasting money” if it started spending more on education. The governor has his head in the sand about the needs of school kids, but he isn’t against really wasting taxpayers’ money to keep the “wrong” people from voting.

In a legal effort that began when Abbott was attorney general, the state has spent more than $3.5 million defending Texas’ voter identification law in court, according to a recent Texas Tribune article. This is the law, enacted by the Republican majority in 2011, which requires voters to produce specific forms of photo identification before being allowed to cast election ballots. It is the strictest voter identification law in the country, with severe limits on what kind of photo ID can be used. A federal judge determined that 600,000 Texas voters lack the required photo ID and noted that the cost and difficulty involved in obtaining the documentation needed to get an ID was unconstitutionally burdensome.

But Abbott and other supporters of the law continue the legal fight. They contend the law is necessary to prevent voter fraud, an argument that is a lie. In truth, cases of voters trying to fraudulently impersonate someone else at polling places are virtually non-existent in Texas.

The real reason for the law is to discourage minority, low-income and elderly people from voting. These are the groups of Texans who are least able to obtain the accepted forms of identification and would be most likely to vote for candidates who support more funding for education and other important services. They would be likely to vote against candidates such as Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and many members of the legislative majority, who persist in under-funding state programs, and the voter ID law was passed to keep them from voting.

There are thousands of better, more productive ways to spend that $3.5 million. That much money, for example, would pay for educating 366 Texas kids for one school year, based on Texas’ current per-pupil expenditures.

The $3.5 million figure will grow as Texas officials continue to defend a discriminatory law. It is a wasteful and shameful expenditure of taxpayer dollars.


As mistakes go, STAAR is a doozy


State Education Commissioner Mike Morath did the right thing by ruling that fifth and eighth graders who failed STAAR exams this year wouldn’t be held back a grade. He was reacting to problems with how STAAR exams have been handled by the testing vendor. But the commissioner still doesn’t get that the basic problem with STAAR is, well, STAAR.

“Kids in the classroom should never suffer from mistakes made by adults,” Morath announced.

That’s right, but the mistakes he was addressing – lost tests and other administrative snafus — are only symptoms of a much larger mistake – the entire STAAR testing regime and the high stakes it unnecessarily imposes on students and teachers. The entire scheme was concocted by adults, and children in classrooms will continue to suffer.

It’s time for Morath to tell the Legislature to listen to parents and educators and deep-six the entire testing program or, at least, scale it back significantly. But, despite being angered and embarrassed by problems with the testing vendor, Morath still supports the tests and would raise the stress level associated with them.

Remember, he has adopted a new teacher evaluation system tied to test scores, and, in a recent media interview, he claimed STAAR tests weren’t “overly burdensome.”

A study committee created by the Legislature – the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability – has been studying STAAR and doesn’t appear ready to junk it yet either.

All of this makes it that much more important that educators, parents and others who have had it up to here with high-stakes testing accept the State Board of Education’s invitation to say what you think about it. Take the board’s survey at the link below.

Changing state laws – even unpopular ones – can be a long and frustrating process. But if you have a chance to tell elected state officials what you think, take it!

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