Monthly Archives: May 2011

A dangerous time under the Capitol dome

While most Texans in the real world will be enjoying a long, holiday weekend, those who work in and around the Legislature will be doing a lot of hurrying up and then waiting between now and midnight Monday, the adjournment deadline for this session.

To an outsider, the next few days will be about as dramatic as watching paint dry, but to those – including Texas educators – with a lot at stake in legislative decisions that still could be made, it can be an anxious and dangerous time.

The news from the Capitol already is bad enough – a new state budget that slashes $4 billion from the education budget and billions more from health care and other services. With those cuts will come the likely loss of thousands of school jobs. But it could get even worse because it won’t be over till it’s over.

Several bad, antipublic education ideas that so far have been blocked may yet get new life in the form of amendments tacked on to legislation in backroom negotiations on conference committee reports. Bad ideas such as raising the 221 class size cap for K4, repealing the teacher salary schedule, allowing school districts to furlough teachers and cut their pay or authorizing a diversion of tax dollars for private school vouchers.

TSTA’s team will be on duty all weekend, antennae on full alert and blood pressure percolating.

Wish us luck and, better than that, call your legislators and keep reminding them that all those bad ideas listed above are, indeed, still bad.

When budget cuts start to hit home

Senate Bill 1581, the legislative aircraft carrier on which school finance cuts and a bunch of other bad legislation were being readied for landing, never sailed on the House floor. Instead, it was torpedoed last night and sank, thanks to a parliamentary technicality raised by a Democratic opponent. In truth, though, many Republican legislators also were relieved because they weren’t looking forward to voting on the school finance amendments.

The same Republican lawmakers already had voted (proudly, some claimed) to collectively slash $8 billion from the public schools, a figure reduced to $4 billion by House and Senate budget conferees. But when it came to cutting the $4 billion on a districtbydistrict basis, which is what the school finance amendments would have done, the GOPers suddenly felt faint.

It is one thing to brag about reducing the size of government, as the new, tea partyinfluenced legislators arrived in Austin doing, and quite another to read the computer printouts showing the damage (in actual dollars) that the budget cuts will inflict on their local school districts, their local taxpayers and, we all can hope, their own reelection prospects.

Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, a Republican from Killeen, and the House sponsor of SB1581, said he understood the reluctance of voting late in the session on the basis of districtbydistrict computer printouts with varying degrees of bad news for the folks back home.

“It’s a large amount of money. We cannot make mistakes at this point without dire consequences,” he said.

Jimmie Don’s statement, of course, ignored the fact that the overriding, major mistake already had been made. The governor and the Republican legislative leadership, including himself, had insisted on deep budget cuts to the public schools.

Regardless of how the school finance dilemma is resolved, the leaders and their tea party allies already have assured a bad outcome. Bad enough that the budgetcutters suddenly were looking for something stronger than tea to bolster their courage, if you want to call it that.

Bill Gates: Astroturf huckster

The next time you hear an education “reformer” promoting such unproven changes as removing seniority from teacher layoff policies or making teacher evaluations heavily dependent on student test scores – sound familiar? – think Bill Gates.

According to an excellent article in The New York Times, Gates has emerged as the biggest huckster of Astroturf in the supposedly “grass roots” movement toward improving educational quality. The article, in case you haven’t read it, is linked below.

Gates is not an educational expert, and he hasn’t been elected to public office. But he is a multibillionaire with opinions, and he is using his billions to force his viewpoints on decisionmakers who, in many cases, may not have any idea who is manufacturing what they assume is grass roots public opinion.

According to the article, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spent $373 million on education (or Gates’ view of it) in 2009 alone and expects to spend another $3.5 billion over the next five or six years, much of it on advocacy.

Recipients include think tanks, universities, bloggers, the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers and various education reform groups, including pseudograss roots organizations.

And, in the interest of full disclosure, the two major teacher unions – including the National Education Association, with which TSTA is affiliated – also have received Gates money, although many of his initiatives are clearly intended to undermine the real education experts – the teachers whom the unions represent.

“Appreciating” teachers out of a job

Teachers deserve appreciation, which is why TSTA supports HCR152, a resolution declaring the first full week in May as “Texas Teacher Appreciation Week.” It was approved this morning by the House Public Education Committee and is headed to the House floor, where it probably will receive another routine endorsement.

But teachers also deserve more than lip service, and the irony (or feeble attempt at political cover) of this resolution isn’t lost on anyone, especially teachers.

To be sure, the resolution has a lot of nice words about the difference teachers make in kids’ lives, their creativity and commitment and contributions to “our state’s most precious resource.”

The words are true, but it is impossible for most teachers to feel really appreciated by a Texas House, whose Republican majority voted for a budget that would slash $8 billion from the public schools and, with it, tens of thousands of educators’ jobs. The resolution’s author, firstterm Rep. Raul Torres of Corpus Christi, voted for the educationslashing budget twice on the House floor and in the Appropriations Committee.

The deep budget cuts still being contemplated by the state leadership will “appreciate” teachers right into a lengthening unemployment line and cram “our state’s most precious resource” into overcrowded classrooms or into dropout oblivion.

Texas teachers can’t say no to this resolution. But they would trade dozens of resolutions like it for a morerealistic approach to budgetwriting, one that doesn’t endanger their livelihoods and compromise the state’s future. For that to happen, state leaders will have to pull their heads from the sand long enough to realize that ideology shouldn’t be allowed to trump common sense.