Monthly Archives: January 2011

Time to take it to the Capitol

The Austin ISD parents who have been protesting and demonstrating around town against proposals to close several neighborhood schools now have an opportunity to take their beef to some of the people who are ultimately responsible for the budgetary shortfalls plaguing AISD and hundreds of school districts across Texas.

The Senate Education Committee is holding a public hearing tomorrow (Tuesday, Feb. 1) at 10 a.m. in Room E1.028 in the underground Capitol extension. Untold thousands of parents and taxpayers throughout Texas are unhappy over the Legislature’s prolonged insistence on underfunding public education and shortchanging their school kids. So, a large (peaceful but determined) crowd of unhappy parents at the Capitol is long overdue.

Let me warn anyone planning to attend, however, that the “public” hearing will be monopolized by organizational matters and a list of invited witnesses, including school superintendents and organizations representing school administrators and school boards. TSTA also has been formally invited to the witness table.

Whatever time is left will be for uninvited public testimony meaning parents and most of the rest of the taxpaying public – and each speaker will be limited to three minutes of testimony. But parents don’t have to testify or even manage to squeeze into the room to make their presence known.

There likely will be an overflow room, from which observers can listen to testimony from the invited superintendents. Parents may find some of the administrators’ plans for classroom overcrowding, additional school closures and teacher furloughs and layoffs very interesting – and disturbing.

Disturbing enough, I hope, that they return to the Capitol frequently over the next few months. Maybe they will be joined by parents from other parts of the state. It is the only way they are going to get noticed – or heard – by legislators and, maybe, even the governor.

One more bit of advice. Those planning to attend tomorrow’s hearing better plan on arriving at the Capitol early to make sure they have time to negotiate the metal detector lines at the new security checkpoints

A conservative, but realistic budget voice

So far, the most positive (if I can use that word) and realistic Republican leadership on the state budget in Austin is coming from Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, who stands head and shoulders above the governor, among many others, on the biggest crisis to face state government in decades.

Make no mistake. Ogden, who also is the Senate’s president pro tem, is a pennysqueezing conservative, and there will be serious spending cuts in the budget that his Finance Committee eventually will draft. But Ogden also is a realist and already is openly talking about trying to balance the budget cuts with new revenue.

In a speech on the session’s opening day, while Gov. Perry was trying to dance around the fiscal crisis, Ogden said lawmakers needed to look at fixing some problems with the state’s underperforming business tax. And yesterday, he talked about spending at least part of the Rainy Day Fund and said Senate leaders may appoint a subcommittee to review tax exemptions.

“In order to get to 21 (Senate) votes, I’ve got to look at everything – including cuts, using the Rainy Day Fund and finding nontax revenue. Before it’s all over, I suspect it (the new budget) will be a combination of the three,” he was quoted online in Texas Monthly.

In Ogden’s mind, closing exemptions to existing taxes, including some school property tax exemptions, would not be a “tax increase,” at least in the political sense of the term.

Another important factor guiding Ogden is the Senate’s twothirds rule, which will require 21 votes to pass any budget bill through the chamber. The 12 Democratic senators alone could block a bill, but budget cuts as deep and extensive as those necessary to bridge the revenue shortfall without new revenue would be offensive to many Republican senators as well.

Republican senators voted to bypass the twothirds rule for the voter ID bill, but most were wise enough to keep it for everything else, including the budget. Despite all the slashandburn rhetoric from the governor’s office and the Tea Party contingent in the Texas House, most senators want to keep the option of protecting their districts from devastating budget cuts as much as possible.

It also is easier for Ogden than some others to stray from the hardright GOP line. He is not contemplating a Republican primary race for the U.S. Senate, as is Lt.Gov. David Dewhurst, or entertaining visions of a presidential campaign, as Gov. Perry may be.

Superman may have lost his cape, but…

You may have heard by now that “Waiting for Superman,” last year’s overhyped movie that was little more than a featurelength advertisement for the charter school movement, won’t be waiting for an Oscar. It didn’t win an Academy Award nomination in the documentary category, and if you detect a bit of smugness in my tone, you are perceptive.

The conversation about education that director Davis Guggenheim said he wanted to start already was well underway before Guggenheim decided to interject himself into the debate. And, much of the conversation was being conducted by public school teachers, whom the director not only chose to ignore but also wrongly tried to portray as villains.

Good charter schools have their place, but the vast majority of children in Texas and other states will continue to be educated in traditional public schools, most of whom are doing a much better job than Guggenheim’s movie suggested.

As media consultant James Aldrete pointed out today during a presentation to the National Education Association’s PR Council, meeting in Austin, “There are no shortcuts (to educational quality).”

No shortcuts, no silver bullets, just a lot of hard, dedicated work by educators and adequate support by state policymakers. Texas’ educators have long done their share, but they are still waiting on the policymakers, and, as we already know, that wait will be long and difficult during this year’s state budgetary process.

Gov. Rick Perry and many legislators still persist in crippling cuts to an already underfunded school finance system, endangering the jobs of thousands of educators, undercutting the learning environment for millions of school kids and putting a huge question mark on Texas’ future.

TSTA and the National Education Association have some differences with President Obama over education policy, but the president was right on point last night when, during his State of the Union address, he warned against cuts in education spending. He was talking to Congress, but the same message applies to the Texas Legislature.

“Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing the engine,” he said. “It may feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you’ll feel the impact.”

As Texas goes?

Rick Sloan, communications director for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, gave an update on the nation’s unemployment picture to a group of teachers unions’ communications specialists today, and it wasn’t good.
Another 60,000 and 200,000 education jobs are projected to be lost in the United States this year, he said, as 30 million Americans remain either unemployed or underemployed. That’s one fifth of the national workforce, he said.

Sloan was in Austin to address a session of the National Education Association’s PR Council, meeting at the Driskill Hotel.

He didn’t discuss Texas’ education jobs’ outlook specifically, but Texas ultimately could have a major effect on the national figures. A lot will depend on how deeply the Legislature and the governor cut into the public education budget to bridge a revenue shortfall as high as $27 billion. One “doomsday” budget proposal laid out last week in the House would slash as many as 100,000 public school jobs in Texas alone during the next twoyear budget cycle.

That budgetary plan was based on Gov. Perry’s insistence that the shortfall be “cured” without raising taxes or spending any of the state’s Rainy Day Fund.