Monthly Archives: July 2011

Look for more fees for school kids

The Texas Tribune has a story today warning that the decision of the budgetstrapped Keller ISD to charge for school bus service could be only the beginning of a new round of fees in Texas’ “free” public schools.

The story doesn’t offer any additional examples, but more fees (in addition to what kids and parents already pay for extracurricular activities) are likely in the wake of the Legislature’s $4 billion cut to school finance formulas over the next two years. Lawmakers also cut an additional $1 billionplus from public education grants for things such as fullday prekindergarten.

The story also raises the question of how many fees can be considered constitutional. Maybe this will be one more issue school districts or other plaintiffs will raise when they file the next, longanticipated lawsuit against the state over public school funding.

As I noted in a posting last week, Keller ISD plans to charge $185 per student per semester for bus service with siblings discounted at $135 per semester. That will be a significant amount of money for many families.

Lowincome kids who quality for free and reduced lunches will be charged “only” $100 per semester, money that many families simply may not have.

Many students will end up walking to school, including along major thoroughfares that lack sidewalks, and safety may quickly become an issue.

Elections do have consequences, folks. It’s still a little early, but remember that when the party primaries for legislative seats roll around next March.

A “virtual” siphon of public money

Even in tough economic times, the entrepreneurs whose main interest in education is how to make money from it – and from the taxpayers – are everpresent, and one company, K12 Inc., apparently scored big in Tennessee this spring with a new, forprofit “virtual school” law.

The budget cuts suffered by Texas’ public schools were bad enough, but Texas teachers and other taxpayers at least can be grateful it was Bill Haslam, the governor of Tennessee, and not Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, who signed the K12 law.

According to a story, linked below, in The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, the new law lets a forprofit company recruit children throughout the state for a virtual academy. This would include children who have been homeschooled as well as kids recruited from public schools. There is no cap on enrollment or total funding.

K12’s lobbyists pushed the bill through during the closing minutes of the Tennessee legislative session in May, and the company has been conducting an enrollment blitz this summer.

Haslam, who signed the new law last month, admits that he just now is learning its full impact.

“I do think we have to think through the consequences a little bit more than we’ve done so far,” he said.

It may be a little late for that, don’t you think, governor?

But not too late for public school supporters to be wary of a similar proposal when the Texas Legislature returns to Austin in 2013.

Tea Party car pools?

Upon returning to work from a couple of weeks off, I am not surprised that school districts still are trying to deal with the $5 billionplus in budget cuts handed them by the Legislature and the governorwhoshouldn’tbe president. And, I notice that the Keller ISD in North Texas has found a way to get the attention of parents who may have been ignoring all the teacher layoffs and other costsqueezing steps.

Keller has laid out a plan to start charging $185 a semester for the first kid and $135 for each sibling – for bus rides to and from school. That means some parents will be paying several hundred dollars a year, more than they would have paid in higher taxes if Keller voters had approved a modest increase in local property taxes several weeks ago.

Keller has the misfortune of sitting in an area of the state heavily influenced by the Tea Party, the antigovernment complainers who believe a quality education belongs in private schools and that other public services grow on trees. The tea partiers were influential in the defeat of the local tax increase proposed by the school district and in electing the legislative majority that slashed state funding for public education.

Maybe the Tea Partytypes now will start organizing car pools for the Keller school kids. It’s the least they can do.

Cargill: Another bow to the right

In Rick Perry’s view the Earth is flat and tilts to the right, which is why the governor, once again, has dipped into his ideological well to fill the chairman’s spot on the State Board of Education. Barbara Cargill of The Woodlands becomes the latest member of the board’s social conservative faction to receive Perry’s nod to reach out to latenight TV comedians.

First, there was “Dinosaur Don” McLeroy, who apparently believed some of the big beasts may have walked the Earth with his nottoodistant ancestors. After he failed to receive Senate confirmation in 2009, Perry replaced him with Gail Lowe, who then presided over the board’s preposterous attempt last year to rewrite history and was so thinskinned that she ejected a group of eighthgraders from a public hearing on curriculum standards after they had applauded a board critic.

Lowe also failed to win Senate confirmation. So, after lawmakers were safely out of town, Perry tried again, this time with Cargill. Assuming there are no more special sessions, Cargill will serve as board chair until the next regular session in 2013, when the Senate will have to decide whether to confirm or reject her.

“Ms. Cargill has worked since her election to the board to promote her own personal beliefs rather than facts and sound scholarship in our kids’ classrooms,” said Dan Quinn, communications director for the Texas Freedom Network, which has closely followed the State Board of Education follies.

Quinn added: “In fact, she even succeeded in censoring the scientific consensus on the age of the universe from the state’s scientific standards. And she helped politicize new social studies standards by appointing an unqualified conservative evangelical minister as a socalled ‘expert’ adviser simply because his personal ideology matched her own.”

Although no major curriculum rewrites are scheduled over the next two years, don’t underestimate the ability of the board’s conservative bloc – particularly with one of its own as chair – to stir up more political controversy and embarrassing headlines.

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