Monthly Archives: March 2011

Looking bad? You bet!

One highranking Republican House member fretted during a Republican Caucus meeting this week that the Senate was making the House “look bad” by considering a budget that wouldn’t cut as deeply into state services as the House version, House Bill 1.

This fretting was reported today by Jason Embry in an Austin AmericanStatesman commentary on the emerging budget differences between the House and the Senate.

Jason didn’t identify the House member, but I have news for him or her. House leaders are “looking bad” on the budget because House Bill 1 is worse than bad. They earned that dubious distinction without any help from the Senate. And, House members who end up voting for it after the debate that begins tomorrow will deserve every negative adjective directed their way.

That being said, the budget reportedly emerging from the Senate Finance Committee isn’t much better. House Bill 1 would cut $7.8 billion from the public schools, and the Senate version would cut between $3 billion and $4 billion, according to various reports.

Approving either – or something in between – would be an abdication of the Legislature’s constitutional responsibility to maintain a strong public school system and provide for other critical public services.

The only way lawmakers are going to get where they need to be and earn the respect of most of the public is to spend all of the Rainy Day Fund and find new revenue.

The cart, the horse and the ditch

State leaders have made a habit of putting the education cart before the horse. Now, if House leaders have their way with House Bill 1, they are going to shove both into the ditch, while the governor applauds and some of his supporters wring their hands.

Even before the current budgetary emergency, Texas scored well on accountability standards for students and teachers but failed miserably on school finance. Policymakers set high accountability standards for schools without adequately paying for public education. In other words, they made sure everyone was accountable except themselves.

Part of the new accountability scheme for students and teachers was a new, more rigorous testing program set to go into effect next school year. But with the House getting ready (this Friday) to debate House Bill 1, an appropriations bill that would slash $7.8 billion from the public education budget, the House Public Education Committee decided to help school districts save a small part of that amount by easing up on the new testing requirements.

So, instead of having to pass 12 new endofcourse exams to get a high school diploma, students will have to pass only four. And, school districts will be allowed to decide whether test scores count toward course grades, under changes approved by the House panel.

These changes were prompted by protests from local school officials that the budget cuts would make it difficult for them to prepare their students for the new tests.

Several business people, however, showed up at yesterday’s committee hearing to complain about the lowered standards. They included representatives of the Governor’s Business Council and Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, a group friendly to Perry.


Hammond and his organization certainly give a higher priority to the public schools than does Perry. But I wonder if the business people have given the governor an earful about the consequences of his rightwing, starvethepublicschools ideology, the same ideology that has produced the budgetslashing House Bill 1. There is a lot more at stake here than standardized tests. Tens of thousands of educator jobs are on the line as well as educational quality in classrooms throughout Texas.

The business people need to keep speaking up for quality public schools. And, they need to speak up to the state’s biggest obstacle to educational quality, the man they have helped to keep in the governor’s office. He is driving both the educational cart and the horse off the road.

An inexpensive pat on the head

Nice words are, well, nice. But they don’t pay the bills.

Click on the link below to read about House Resolution 828, routinely approved by the Texas House this week, declaring March 2125 as Texas Retired Teachers Week.

“The Texas House of Representatives takes pride in its public educators, who provide an invaluable service to the people of Texas,” the resolution states.

No kidding.

Unfortunately, as Richard Whittaker notes in his Austin Chronicle item about the measure, “The state is obviously so enamored of retired teachers that it is preparing to make lots more of them – many prematurely, as they accept early buyouts.”

If the House really appreciates the contributions of teachers (as well as bus drivers and other educational support staff), it should reject a draconian budget that would slash public education funding by $8 billion and, with it, thousands of educators’ jobs. And, oh yes, the budget also would cut funding to the Teacher Retirement System.

The resolution is nice and doubtlessly is appreciated by many retired teachers. But the budget approved by the House Appropriations Committee speaks a lot more loudly. And, it is nothing but bad news.

Educators – active and retired – need adequate compensation, not just pats on the head.

Let’s put the classroom first, maybe.

Senate Education Chairwoman Florence Shapiro and several of her Republican Senate colleagues talked a good game for teachers in their news conference this morning, but…

“Protecting the classroom is our No. 1 priority,” Shapiro said, telling superintendents to cut administrators first. Her statements were echoed by others, including Sen. Dan Patrick.

Now, the “but” part.

The Legislature should cut administration before teachers and, in some school districts, there doubtlessly is administration that can be cut. But, administrative reductions notwithstanding, even the “kinder” (as opposed to the House) budget cuts being considered by the Senate would cost many teachers their jobs.

The Senate Finance subcommittee chaired by Shapiro has recommended the restoration of $6 billion to the public education budget. The panel didn’t suggest where the money should come from, but even if the $6 billion were added to the budget, the public schools still would be $3.3 billion short of meeting anticipated enrollment growth.

Also, if Shapiro and Patrick are so sure that they can largely solve the school funding problem with administrative savings, why are they both sponsoring legislation to lift the 221 class size cap for kindergarten through fourth grade?

Despite the importance of that cap to maintaining educational quality, superintendents are asking that it be repealed. Why? So they can fire more teachers, of course.

If Shapiro and Patrick care so much about the classroom, why don’t they protect 221 instead of trying to sacrifice it?