Monthly Archives: June 2010

Ds and Rs: Worlds apart on public schools

Texas Democrats adopted a new party platform at their state convention last weekend, and as I predicted a couple of weeks ago, the education section is similar to previous Democratic platforms and is strongly supportive of the public schools

The Democratic Party, as an institution, has such a high regard for public education that its platform addresses that issue first, right after the preamble. By contrast, the Texas Republican platform, which I summarized after it was adopted earlier this month, reflects a skeptical and, at times, hostile attitude toward the public schools. It was written by archconservatives with a strong interest in promoting homeschooling and private education.

I don’t want to repeat everything I already have written, but here are a few key, fundamental differences:

# Democratic platform writers recognized a basic problem: the public schools are underfunded and inequitably funded by state government. They called on state government to “establish a 100 percent equitable school finance system with sufficient state revenue to allow every district to offer an exemplary program,” while reducing the “Robin Hood” raids on local tax dollars.

Republicans ignored the funding problem and proposed that state government squeeze the public schools even more. That would be the net effect of GOP platform proposals to put more restrictions on local property taxes, repeal the new state business tax and require a twothirds vote of the Legislature to raise any other taxes.

# Democrats proposed raising teacher and support staff pay to levels exceeding the national average and extending quality statefunded health insurance to all education employees. Those goals would be impossible to meet under the Republicans’ plan for drying up tax revenue.

# Democrats recognize the severity of the dropout problem and propose several attacks on it, including expanded access to early childhood education programs that target atrisk students, matching more highly qualified teachers with atrisk students and enforcing daytime curfew laws to reduce truancy. The new Republican platform doesn’t say a word about dropouts, but it would worsen the problem by abolishing governmentsponsored early childhood development programs and opposing daytime curfews for juveniles.

# Democrats would reign in the ideologydriven decisions of the State Board of Education over curriculum standards and textbook content, while the Republican platform would give the board even more authority over public education, including oversight of the entire Texas Education Agency.

For more differences, you can check out my blog posts for June 15 and 18 or click on the links below for each party’s platform and scroll down to the education sections.

Here is a link to the new Democratic platform:

And here is a link to the Republican platform:

Marshall: A giant, not a punching bag

As a longtime acquaintance and professional observer of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, I believe I can accurately say that he is a strong supporter of integrated schools. But some nonTexans who may have read his remarks about Thurgood Marshall yesterday may have doubts. During the opening session of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, Cornyn called the legendary, former Supreme Court justice a “judicial activist” who had a “judicial philosophy that concerns me.”

Some of Cornyn’s Republican colleagues on the panel made similar statements in an effort to suggest that Kagan, who long ago clerked for Marshall, also may become a liberal “activist” on the high court.

Cornyn, a former Texas attorney general and state Supreme Court justice, operates in a different political world than Marshall did. But it is time for him and other conservatives to leave Marshall alone.

For one thing, Marshall has been dead for a number of years. But more importantly, his place in history is secured by two giant contributions. He was the first African American to serve on the nation’s highest court, and, as an attorney, he successfully argued the landmark Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit that resulted in the integration of the nation’s schools.

He is a huge, positive role model for young people, not a punching bag for political ideologues whose own names soon will be forgotten.

Even the State Board of Education recently voted to keep Marshall in Texas’ curriculum standards, despite the recommendations of two “expertsintheirownminds” reviewers that his name be dropped.

Here is a link to a Washington Post column by Dana Milbank suggesting that Marshall, preposterous as it may seem, couldn’t win Senate confirmation today:

Going to summer school

Although there is a lot of material swirling about – including Rep. Linda HarperBrown’s transportation problem and Rep. Leo “Arizona” Berman’s filing to run for speaker – I will not be blogging much, if at all, this week.

I am in Nashville, attending the State Education Editors annual conference, a National Education Association event. You know, lectures, power points, continuing education stuff.

I expect to be informed, but I hope there won’t be an endofcourse exam.

The Democrats’ views on public education

After posting the item the other day listing some of the ways in which the recently adopted Texas Republican Party platform would cripple public education, I received a comment from a reader challenging me to be “fair” and also post the “ultraliberal” Democratic education proposals.

Well, I was planning to post portions of the Democratic platform but was going to wait until after the party had actually adopted one for the current election year. That won’t happen until the Democrats hold their state convention at the end of next week. In the meantime, though, I will list some key parts of the Democrats’ 2008 education platform. The 2010 platform likely will be very similar because Democrats for years have been strong supporters of the public schools.

Here are some traditional Democratic education goals likely to remain in the party’s new platform:

# An equitable school finance system that is sufficiently funded by the state so that every district can offer a strong program.

# The state should improve its education funding so that local taxpayers get relief from the socalled “Robin Hood” law that takes local tax dollars from local schools. (The Republican platform advocates a reduction in state funding, which would increase Robin Hood’s raids on local taxpayers.)

# Raise teacher and support staff pay.

# Don’t spend precious tax dollars on private school vouchers, a longtime Republican priority.

# Make dropout prevention and recovery a priority for each school district. (Unless I missed it, the new Republican platform doesn’t say a word about dropouts, one of the biggest economic and social problems facing Texas today.)

# Stop extremists from controlling or censoring curriculum and textbooks. (The Republican platform wants to give the outofcontrol State Board of Education more authority over curriculum and textbooks and oversight of the entire Texas Education Agency.)

# Enforce and extend class size limits, an effective contributor to learning that some Republican legislators will try to weaken next year.

# Protect bilingual education, which the Republican platform wants to weaken, despite continued growth of Hispanic enrollment in the public schools.

# Provide universal access to prekindergarten and kindergarten. (The Republican Party opposes mandatory preschool and kindergarten.)

# Provide early intervention programs to help every child read at or above grade level.

There are other planks, but you can see the major differences between the two parties. Not everyone is going to agree with every Democratic plank. But I think most Texans who value the public schools and honestly want to improve them recognize the Democratic goals as largely mainstream. Only people who are isolated so far to the political right that they are light years removed from the middle would consider them “ultraliberal.” Either that or they have a very limited political vocabulary.