Monthly Archives: August 2011

Spending, then bashing, stimulus money

Gov. Rick Perry took his road show to Oklahoma yesterday and vowed that if he – shudder – were elected president, there would be no stimulus programs.

Perry’s stimulusbashing, of course, is a glaring inconsistency in his campaign, and it remains to be seen how long he will try to get away with it. Texas, under Perry’s watch, eagerly accepted several billion dollars in federal stimulus money in 2009 to help balance the state budget while letting Perry keep bragging about holding the line on state taxes. Maybe he figured the good folks in Tulsa didn’t know about that.

And, just a few months ago, Perry accepted another $830 million in federal stimulus funds to save (at least temporarily) some educators’ jobs. That was after he had spent several months playing politics over the issue.

The article about Perry’s speech to the Tulsa Press Club notes that the governor “shed little new light on his campaign’s economic plan.”

That’s because he doesn’t have one. He does have a lot of trite ideological rhetoric, though.


Fighting dropouts, one teenage driver at a time

With Texas’ dropout rate hovering around onethird, you can make a good argument that policymakers need to figure out a better way of combating it, other than to order a new generation of accountability tests for students and then slash the public education budget, which is what the Legislature did, backtoback, during its two most recent sessions.

Well, there is one other thing the state does.

It provides an extra incentive to stay in school for kids eager to exercise their independence behind the wheel of a car. Texans younger than 18 have an extra requirement for obtaining and renewing a driver’s license. It’s called a verification of enrollment (VOE) form, proving that they are enrolled in school for the current semester.

A freshly issued, uptodate student ID badge won’t do, as my 17yearold son and I learned this morning when we went to one of the most inconveniently located and most parkingunfriendly DPS driver’s license offices in the entire state (and then waited in line) to renew his license.

He got his first regular driver’s license in January, but drivers younger than 18 have to renew their licenses on their next birthday, and they can’t renew online. Please keep all of this in mind (and also make sure you know your son’s or daughter’s Social Security number) if you are a parent gathering the nerve to dive into this teenage driving adventure. It might save you an extra trip to the driver’s license office after taking time off from work and school. These offices are closed on the weekends, a costcutting step taken during a previous state budgetary crunch.

This morning’s setback was minor. Adrian will get his VOE form, and we will try again on Friday, when he has an open schedule until midmorning. But it got me to thinking about whether this school enrollment proof for young drivers is an effective deterrence to dropping out or merely something that sounds good and was easy for the Legislature to impose.

I don’t know. It may be keeping some kids in school, but many dropouts are from families that can’t afford cars. And, I suspect there are thousands of other young dropouts driving around on our streets and highways without the blessing of a license, just as there are thousands of motorists driving around without insurance, which the state also requires.

When does corporate assistance become meddling?

Businesses have been contributing money to public schools for a long time, and in most cases the financial help has been put to good use. But in recent years, with legislators in Texas and other states cutting back on school aid, a new pattern of corporate giving has been emerging.

According to an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, linked below, corporate donors have started writing curricula for schools, designing and teaching classes and training principals.

The story cites several examples, including IBM’s involvement in opening an innercity public high school to prepare young people for entrylevel technology jobs, possibly at IBM.

Many budgetstrapped educators are welcoming this privatization of the public schools, but others are worried about what kinds of strings are attached and the ultimate effect on the role of public education.

Susan Linn, director of Campaign for a CommercialFree Childhood, a Boston advocacy nonprofit, is concerned that some of these publicprivate partnerships will benefit sponsoring companies more than the schools and their students.

“It gets down to an ancient debate about what the purpose of education is,” Linn said. “Is it to create a literate population who can think critically…or to train a workforce?”

Some would argue the purpose of education is to accomplish both goals, but corporate money and its potential strings also raise other questions.

If bankers begin helping schools draft curricula for money management classes, what will they want students to learn about the role the banking industry played in the recent financial meltdown? Will they want them to learn anything about it at all?

What will oil company sponsors want science students to learn about global warming? Will they demand it be omitted from a public school’s curriculum?

Corporate intrusion into the classroom, regardless how wellintended, is full of potential problems, although it obviously is very tempting for many educators.

-From Education Week

Senate Finance chairman vents

For those who are tired of reading media comments from Republican legislators bragging (a softer word than lying) about all the good work they did during their six months in Austin earlier this year, read the article linked below.

It’s a newspaper account of a speech that Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden (a Republican) made to a home district crowd in College Station. He summed up the legislative session for pretty much what it was – a failure – and blamed the problem on political ambition.

It is true that Ogden played a leadership role in drafting the worst public education budget in more than 60 years, but the cuts wouldn’t have been quite so drastic had there been fewer antigovernment Republicans in the House and stronger leadership in the lieutenant governor’s office.

Ogden, in his speech, is quoted as saying that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was ineffective because he was preparing to launch his U.S. Senate campaign.

“If you’re elected to a job you don’t really want, and you’re trying to use that job for something else, you’re pretty miserable while you’re in that job and everybody else around you is pretty miserable,” Ogden said.

Ogden also blamed the Democrats for playing politics by always “voting ‘no’” rather than working with the Republicans for something better.

I disagree with Ogden on this point. Democrats repeatedly proposed closing tax exemptions and spending most or all of the Rainy Day Fund. But Gov. Perry and the House majority adamantly shut the door on any new tax revenue and insisted on leaving most of the Rainy Day Fund ($6.5 billion) unspent while slashing $5.4 billion from public education and billions from health care.

Ogden would have spent more of the Rainy Day Fund, but Dewhurst got cold feet.