Dan Patrick’s lastest bad idea for education


If he weren’t the lieutenant governor of Texas and in a position to do a lot of hurt to education and other public programs, Dan Patrick would be the punchline to a bad joke. As in, did you hear what Dan Patrick wants to do now?

One of Patrick’s latest brainstorms is to curb increases in college tuition by making it more difficult, if not impossible, for many low-income young people to attend college.

The idea, which The Dallas Morning News strongly rebukes in an editorial linked below, would be to eliminate the current requirement that state-supported universities set aside 20 percent of the tutition that they collect and dedicate it to financial aid for students who need the help.

The legislative majority imposed that requirement several years ago to partially take it off the hook for under-funding higher education with tax dollars. Patrick, of course, has a record of under-funding education at all levels.

According to the newspaper’s research, eliminating the tuition set-aside would save the average college student about 7 percent, or $482 a year. But it would cost some low-income students who depend on the assistance as much as $3,600 or more a year and cause many of them to drop out of college.

The program generates $345 million a year in financial aid for more than 200,000 needy students, many of them the first-generation in their families to attend college.

A spokesman for Patrick suggested the Legislature could replace the lost financial aid by appropriating more money for higher education. “The Legislature should step up and provide those funds,” the spokesman said.

That’s a good idea and a sensible way to reduce college tuition for everybody. But the problem is that Dan Patrick is probably the single biggest obstacle to the legislative majority actually stepping up and adequately funding student aid, higher education or any other public program, except maybe “border security,” whatever that is.

When it comes to programs that benefit most Texans, Patrick’s middle name is “Cut.” As far as he is concerned, if that hurts the needy and our state’s future, too bad.

And that’s no joke.



Campus miracle workers can do only so much


During the new school year, thousands of teachers across Texas once again will prove themselves to be miracle workers, of sorts, as they help students not only tackle their studies but also cope with a number of issues and distractions originating outside the classroom.

But even miracle workers have their limits, as the Houston Chronicle editorial, linked below, accurately points out.

Public schools and the people who work in them cannot “fix” deep-rooted, intergenerational poverty that continues to haunt tens of thousands of children in Texas. State leaders have failed them for years and continue to fail them with an inadequate safety net of health care and social services. These same state leaders – who also refuse to pay for an adequate and equitable school funding system — pass the buck to educators and then wring their hands when the same kids, year after year, continue to under-perform on standardized tests.

The editorial cited the case of Kashmere High School in Houston, which has been rated “improvement required” on the state’s accountability system for seven years.

Here’s why. Some 48 of adults in the community served by the school don’t have a high school diploma, and fewer than 7 percent have a college degree. Fifty-three percent of adults make less than $25,000 a year, the community has no Head Start programs and it lacks sufficient health care providers.

As the Chronicle wrote: “No matter what hours Kashmere’s principals, teachers and administrators put in, no matter how well they use data, no matter their dedication, school personnel cannot fix intergenerational poverty. They can’t amass the resources to meet these students’ basic needs or those of their families, whose engagement is vital to student success. Yet until students have full stomachs, a roof over their heads and a safe environment, it’s at best challenging for students to learn.”

A community school model in the Kashmere feeder pattern is attempting to coordinate social services and other community resources that the students and their families need. This is a good step, but the legislative majority also needs to provide more resources.

It doesn’t take a genius to predict that once the state implements it’s new, A-F grading system for campuses next year, Kashmere will get an “F.” And so will hundreds of other campuses with classrooms full of improverished children.

That is a stigma that will do absolutely nothing to help these kids. But it was much easier for the legislative majority to insult low-income children and their educators with this law than it was to begin to realistically address the challenges that these children and their teachers face.


Watch out when education “reformers” join forces


When two self-styled “education reform” groups announce they are joining forces to improve public schools, educators and parents need to be skeptical. Most of these groups are more interested in taking tax dollars to privatize education, not improve it.

The latest privatization effort is a new group called Texas Aspires, which represents a merger of Texans for Education Reform and the Texas Institute for Education Reform. “Reform” may be the most over-used and misused word in the political vocabulary, right up there with “unprecedented.” Bad ideas are not “reform,” and neither are they “unprecedented,” but unfortunately they won’t go away.

The most encouraging thing I can say about Texas Aspires at this point is that the group claims not to be interested in promoting vouchers, a direct theft of state tax dollars to pay for tuition in private and religious schools. Other alleged “reformers” will be pursuing that goal when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

Texas Aspires, however, will push for other things that – if the privatization motive is not curtailed — could under-cut public schools, including expanded online learning and more charter schools.

Online courses have their place, but an online learning bill proposed during the 2015 legislative session was all about profit for vendors, not improved educational opportunities for children. It was so potentially expensive that even senators in lock-step with most of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s bad education ideas gagged at it. It was about the only bad idea of Patrick’s that the Senate majority didn’t pass.

Expansion of charter schools also can be another expansion of privatization, since corporate run charters – which take tax dollars but are operated by for-profit management companies – are increasingly trying to make inroads into public school districts and the education budget in Texas.

According to the Associated Press, Texas Aspires claims to be focused on strengthening public schools. If so, the best way to do that is to put aside the costly, unproven gimmicks and join real educators and parents in demanding that the legislative majority draft an adequate and fair funding plan for all of Texas’ schoolchildren. That is the first and most important step toward strengthening public education in Texas.



Poisoning classrooms, Trump-style


Donald Trump may never be elected president, I hope, but he already has poisoned not only the political debate in the United States but also the atmosphere in some classrooms. He is one of the last individuals any young person should select as a role model, but some students apparently have.

The summer issue of NEA TODAY has an article about a recent report from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project confirming that “the hostile tone and bullying behavior like that seen at Trump campaign events is having a profound negative effect on individual students and entire school communities.”

“Nationwide, educators have reported alarming cases of student bullies spouting anti-immigrant, anti-minority rhetoric they have heard during the course of the 2016 presidential campaign – primarily from Trump and his supporters,” Amanda Litvinov wrote.

Here is a sample:

# High school students in Iowa yelled “Trump, Trump, Trump!” during a ballgame against a rival school whose student body was heavily Hispanic.

# Last spring, two third-graders in Virginia taunted classmates by saying, “When Trump’s president, you’ll be deported.”

# One teacher reported hearing a fifth-grader tell a Muslim schoolmate that “he was supporting Donald Trump because he was going to kill all of the Muslims if he became president.”

# Nearly 70 percent of educators responding to an online survey said students – including many Muslims, immigrants and children of immigrants – had expressed concerns about what might happen to their families after the election.

# More than half of the teachers in the survey said they had observed an increase in hateful language, especially anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant remarks.

# There have been reports of students not wanting to attend school because they believed their classmates hate them.

# Forty-three percent of teachers surveyed said they were hesitant to teach about the current presidential election for fear they might stir students up.

“Last election was amazing in my class!” a teacher from San Antonio was quoted. “We even learned about electoral votes using other first-grade classrooms. Not this year! Not touching it!”

Trump is nauseating. Yet, people who should know better, including some of Texas’ top elected officials continue to support him. What kind of role models are they?