Monthly Archives: August 2010

Kissing the ring and fueling public policy

Anyone out there want to meet Gov. Rick Perry? Want to spend a few seconds of quality time with the longest serving governor in Texas history? Maybe compare notes on the quality of rental houses? Or pick up a couple of pointers about how to blow away a coyote?

Well, if you don’t have anything better to do this Thursday evening (Sept. 2), drop by the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin about 6 p.m., and maybe you will get your chance to kiss the regal ring. But don’t come emptyhanded. Bring money, lots of money, because the price of admission won’t be cheap.

If you’re a teacher, don’t expect to find many of your colleagues there. Instead, you will be treated (if that’s the right word) to a Who’s Who of Austin lobbyists, representing the monied special interests that provide the fuel for Perry’s election campaigns and issue the marching orders…umm, advice…he follows when dealing with public policy.

The event may resemble a preelection coronation more than anything else. Technically, however, it is a fundraiser for the governor’s reelection campaign.

Host and sponsorship levels start at $5,000 and top out at $50,000. Givers at those levels also get a private reception with the governor. Tickets to the general reception are $1,000.

Yes, it is the same fundraiser that Perry’s Democratic opponent, Bill White, is criticizing in a new TV ad. And, yes, Bill White also is raising a lot of money, including from special interests, as are hundreds of other political candidates. But few fundraising lists are as heavyladen with special interests as is Perry’s. And few of Perry’s special interests have the needs of the public schools, educators and school kids anywhere near the top of their wish lists.

The corporate giants of telecommunications, health care, insurance, real estate, energy and finance that are sponsoring the event are far more interested in protecting themselves from higher taxes (or enhancing their tax breaks, even in the face of an $18 billion revenue shortfall) than they are in helping state government meet the needs of mere mortals..

Attendees will include a lot of selfanointed education “experts.” You know the kind . voucher advocates, “accountability” gurus and others seeking to make big bucks from public school contracts.

The real education experts, however, won’t be there. Priced out of admission, many will be at home, grading papers, or meeting parents at “Back to School” night.

Perry postures, Waco raises teacher pay

Gov. Rick Perry hasn’t said, at least publicly, whether he will apply for the $830 million in emergency education jobs money that the federal government has set aside for Texas, but at least one local school board already has budgeted part of the money to grant teacher pay raises.

The Waco ISD board this week approved an average salary increase of 2.1 percent for teachers, librarians, counselors and other campus professionals. Other support staff also will get raises. The higher pay, expected to cost $1.65 million, is tied to the $5 million the district is expected to receive under the jobs bill, according to the Waco TribuneHerald.

Interim Superintendent Sheryl Davis noted that some people were concerned that the governor may reject the federal funds, but she added, “I feel pretty certain we will get that money.”

Instead of thanking the federal government – and particularly Texas’ Democratic members of Congress – for the help, Perry instead has been playing political games, criticizing Democrats for taking steps to ensure that Texas actually uses the money to boost education spending, not plug other, unrelated holes in the state budget.

All of Texas’ Republican members of Congress – except for one, who was absent voted against the bill.

The measure, meanwhile, had solid support from Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards of Waco, who is locked in a tough reelection fight with Republican challenger Bill Flores in District 17 in central Texas.

Waco educators and taxpayers should keep Edwards’ support of the bill in mind and ask Flores why he has been attacking Edwards for voting for the legislation, which is worth an estimated $22.5 million to all the public schools in District 17

It is a good thing that Edwards – and not Flores was in Washington when the critical, final vote on the measure was taken earlier this month.

Slicing another piece of charter pie

The jury may still be out on the overall effectiveness of charter schools, as a major, recent study concluded, but a large chunk of the public still has a pieinthesky attitude about them.

According to a poll released today, public support of President Obama’s education agenda has slipped during the past year – only 34 percent of Americans would give the president an A or B on education performance now, compared to 45 percent last year – but support for charter schools continues to grow.

Some 65 percent of the respondents to the survey by Phi Delta Kappa International and Gallup said they would welcome new charter schools in their communities, and 60 percent said they would favor a “large increase” in the number of charters in the United States. There are about 5,000 charter schools across the country, and Obama wants to create more, copying the efforts of those that have improved achievement among lowincome students.

But a federally commissioned study released about two months ago found that students who won lotteries to attend charter middle schools didn’t perform any better, on average, in math and reading than students from the same communities who lost the lotteries and attended nearly regular public schools. The study involved 2,330 students who applied to 36 charter schools in 15 states. The charter schools in the sample conducted random admission lotteries, meaning that only chance – not some type of screening – determined who attended.

The study, conducted by Mathematica Policy Research of Princeton, N.J. and reported by Education Week, also concluded that the charter school lottery winners did no better, on average, than the lottery losers on such factors as behavior and attendance.

The study seemed to reinforce findings by researchers at Stanford University, who concluded in an earlier study last year that most charters generally were producing similar or worse achievement results than traditional public schools.

The Mathematica study did find, however, that the charter middle schools that served the most economically disadvantaged students – especially in urban areas – were more successful than charters serving higherachieving, more affluent students in producing gains in math.

In short, charters, as Texas’ experience with them has demonstrated, are still a mixed bag. Some are good, and others are a waste of the tax dollars spent on them.

Here is a link to the Mathematica study:

The budgetary politics of school bus seatbelts

Under a 2007 law from which Gov. Rick Perry milked a lot of favorable publicity, this school year was the deadline for school districts in Texas to comply with a requirement that all new school buses have passenger seatbelts.

But guess what?

Some districts are complying, but many, including Houston ISD, the state’s largest, aren’t. It seems the seatbelt law has become a victim of the budgetary crunch – and maybe some political indifference in Austin as well.

The state initially set aside $10 million to reimburse districts for seatbelt costs. But according to a story aired by KPRCTV, Channel 2 in Houston, the Texas Education Agency cut all but $3.6 million of that to comply with Perry’s directive for state agencies to reduce spending.

Some districts, including Dallas ISD and Beaumont ISD, already have spent local funds to purchase new buses with seatbelts anyway. But many other districts, including HISD, haven’t because most districts are grappling with money troubles of their own.

The 2007 law was prompted, in large part, by the deaths of two girls and injuries to many others in the 2006 crash of a charter bus carrying a Beaumont High School soccer team. Perry signed the law in Beaumont at the school the victims attended.

Now, the Texas Education Agency, headed by Perry appointee Robert Scott, is recommending that the seatbelt law become voluntary. It is advising districts that want to buy seatbeltequipped buses anyway to apply for grants for reimbursement.

Here is a link to the KPRC story: