Monthly Archives: April 2011

Some bunches of (genuine) bunk

Believe it or not, folks, I finally found something inspirational…no, that’s too positive a word. I finally found something to copycat from the governor this session. That would be his recent use of the phrase, “bunch of bunk,” to articulate his opposition to something further undermining his slashandburn philosophy of government.

As I noted the other day in my previous posting, Gov. Perry used that phrase to try, unsuccessfully, to dismiss a recent report by the Legislative Budget Board, projecting the loss of as many as 335,000 jobs in Texas if the budget plan passed by the Texas House actually became law. That’s the plan that would carry out the governor’s apparent desire to cut public education and the rest of state government back into the 19th century.

The LBB projection, unfortunately, isn’t bunk. But there has been a lot of other bunk (genuine bunk) swirling around the state Capitol this session, much of it spread by the governor and his allies.

The following examples really are bunk:

# The governor’s claim that neither he nor his budgetcutting legislative accomplices are responsible for teacher layoffs.

# The Legislature has to slash public education, health care and other critical public services because state government has to “live within its means.” State government’s “means” is determined by the governor and the Legislature, which, so far, are leaving billions of dollars in potential new tax revenue untapped. The governor even wants to leave most of the Rainy Day Fund in the bank.

# House Bill 400 and its first cousin, Senate Bill 12, are designed simply to give local school officials more budgetary flexibility and protect as many educators’ jobs as possible. In truth, they are not budget fixes. They are attacks on teachers. They would make it easier for superintendents and school boards to fire teachers, cut teachers’ pay, order teachers to take unpaid furloughs and eliminate most teacher employment rights. Moreover, both bills propose to make all these teacherbashing changes permanent.

# The 221 class size limit for kindergarten through fourth grade is not a “magic” number. You need a lower cap to increase educational quality in the lower grades. This fallacious argument not only defies some studies on class size, it also defies common sense. The fewer children in a classroom, the better the learning environment, period.

# The recession is the main cause of school districts’ budgetary problems. Everybody in the education community knows better than that. The main problem is a history of state underfunding of the public schools, a condition that was worsened in 2006, when the governor and the Legislature ordered big cuts in local school property taxes without fully paying for them. The structural deficit in school funding caused by the 2006 law alone is a projected $10 billion for 20122013.

The governor’s alleged leadership this session is a bunch of….well, that’s enough for now.

Letting political fantasy trump reality

It’s easier to be governor of Texas when your mind isn’t bothered by unhappy, negative facts. I am not saying that Rick Perry is a blank slate, but he certainly continues to give every indication of being in denial about the seriousness of the state’s budgetary crisis. Either that, or he is simply being callous.

The latest public episode occurred yesterday when Perry was questioned by a reporter about the Legislative Budget Board’s determination that the horribly deficient budget recently passed by the Texas House could cost Texas as many as 335,000 jobs, including 146,000 in the private sector, by 2013.

This is the same budget plan that slashes $7.8 billion from public education, so thousands of those lost jobs would be in the public schools.

The LBB staff that prepared the report is a highly professional group of numbers experts employed by the Legislature to assist with budgetwriting. They are wellrespected by everyone around the Capitol except those more interested in political perceptions than reality.

Perry, according to Quorum Report, called the LBB’s projections of job losses a “bunch of bunk.”

The governor’s reaction probably shouldn’t have come as any surprise, since he is 110 percent politically motivated and is insisting that the Legislature fill a huge budgetary hole without raising taxes or even spending much of the Rainy Day Fund. Without those alternatives, you get the crippling budget cuts passed by the House.

It also isn’t the first time the governor has expressed insensitivity toward the plight of the tens of thousands of Texans who would be harmed by cuts to public education, health care and other critical state needs.

Perry’s comment was made shortly before he was to meet with legislators from California, who were in Austin to determine why their state has been losing jobs to Texas. If anything resembling the House budget plan becomes law, California soon will get all those jobs back from Texas – and many more.

When you are working with facts, as the LBB does, you report them. When you are playing with political fantasy, you respond with outrageous, unsupported statements.

Wisconsin teacher busting, Texas style

I posted an item about House Bill 400 last week, but this antiteacher piece of legislation is so bad it deserves more attention. The bill by House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler was approved by his committee last week and may be debated on the House floor late this week or next.

HB400 allegedly was drafted to give local school boards and superintendents “flexibility” to deal with the budgetary shortfall. In truth, the bill has very little to do with the budget and, instead, is a blatant attempt to make it easier for districts to fire teachers or cut their pay by repealing educators’ salary safeguards and due process employment rights.

It’s basically the Texas version of Wisconsin union busting. Unlike their peers in Wisconsin, Texas teachers don’t have collective bargaining rights for antiunion superintendents and lawmakers to attack. But Texas educators do have some employment protections, most of which will be wiped out – along with an important classroom quality standard if HB400 becomes law.

The classroom standard is the 221 class size limit for kindergarten through fourth grade. It has been law since 1984 because it has worked to enhance the learning environment for Texas’ youngest students and, in turn, has helped improve student performance. HB400 would replace it with a 221 districtwide class size average and a new, 251 cap in K4.

Although superintendents and school board members claim their push for the higher cap isn’t motivated by a desire to fire teachers – or to make teachers the first victims of the budget crunch – the ONLY reason for repealing 221 is to make it easier to lay off teachers. And the more teachers who lose their jobs, the more kids who will be crammed into overcrowded classrooms and the poorer the learning environment.

Districts already can seek waivers from 221 from the state in cases of severe financial hardships.

Legislators, including Eissler, claim they want to protect teachers’ jobs. But HB400 would do the opposite. Legislators who really want to protect educators’ jobs should vote against it.

Here are some other provisions that make HB400 an attack on unions, not a temporary budget solution.

# It permanently repeals the current law that prohibits school districts from paying teachers less next year than they earned this year. And, it eliminates the state minimum salary schedule, which has been on the books for years. If superintendents simply want to be able to temporarily cut teachers’ pay to help make it through the budgetary crisis, why make that change in law permanent and why repeal the salary schedule?

# It permanently changes the date for a district to notify a teacher that his or her contract won’t be renewed for the next school year from the 45th day before the end of instruction to the last day of instruction in the spring semester. Districts may need some more flexibility now, but why make this change permanent? All it would do is add insult to injury by making it more difficult for a laid off teacher to find a new job for the next school year.

# It permanently eliminates the use of a neutral hearing officer in cases of midyear teacher terminations. The discharged teacher, instead, would be offered a kangaroocourt style hearing before the school board.

# It permanently allows a school board to furlough teachers for as many as seven noninstructional days a year and reduce their pay accordingly. Again, why does this change need to be permanent if it is supposed to merely give districts some temporary budgetary “flexibility”?

# It permanently deletes seniority as one of the factors used in determining who is terminated during a reduction in force. This, of course, would allow districts to fire the most experienced, highest paid teachers without regard for the negative effect on the classroom.

# It permanently allows a district to declare a financial exigency (emergency) at any time for any reason in order to perform a reduction in force.

Those are a lot of “permanentlys” for what supposedly is a shortterm fix.

You don’t always get what you sue for

An Austin radio station was reporting over the weekend that some school districts, unhappy over the looming state cuts to public education funding, are considering filing another school finance lawsuit against the state. There is nothing particularly newsworthy about the story because school districts have been talking about another lawsuit for many months now.

And, talk of a lawsuit alone is not going to prompt this Legislature to do what’s right because lawmakers know that suits of this magnitude take years to be resolved.

The school finance system has been the subject of several lawsuits brought at various times over the past 30plus years by school districts, parents or both. Some, such as the suit that resulted in the landmark Texas Supreme Court order in Edgewood v. Kirby in 1986, have produced more equity in school funding.

The last lawsuit brought by school districts who claimed that a growing reliance on local property taxes for school funding amounted to an unconstitutional statewide property tax – backfired.

The courts agreed with the districts and ordered the Legislature to change the system, resulting in the 2006 school finance law. But instead of putting more state funding into public education, the governor and the Legislature tightened the squeeze on the public schools. They ordered deep cuts in school property taxes without fully paying for them and put strict limits on future property tax increases. The results are a $10 billion structural deficit in the public education budget, severe school financial problems and districts once again threatening to sue.

Another school finance suit is inevitable, either before or, mostly likely, after the session ends.