Monthly Archives: December 2011

No apology necessary, Perry is a “Bum Steer”

I can understand why Gov. Rick Perry is getting Texas Monthly’s annual “Bum Steer of the Year” award – no Texas governor has ever gone to such great lengths to earn it – but I can’t understand why the magazine was so hesitant to single out the governor, even to the point of being almost apologetic.

“No one wants to give the governor a Bum Steer. No one wants to poke fun at the elected representative of 25 million Texans,” wrote editor Jake Silverstein. The final straw, he said, was Perry’s gigantic “oops” moment, his inability during a televised debate to remember the third federal agency he would abolish were the country to commit the disastrous act of electing him president.

Although that gaffe is memorable, no one should have been embarrassed by it, except the governor, his inner circle of advisers and the nearsighted campaign contributors who have spent millions of dollars keeping him propped up in the governor’s office for the past 11 years in exchange for government contracts and other political favors.

The “oops” moment is far from the worst sin that Perry has inflicted on the people of Texas during this year alone. The governor’s handling last spring of the state budgetary crisis – which he largely created with an underfunded school finance plan five years ago – should have been more than enough to already have planted him at the top of the “Bum Steer” list.

He insisted upon and signed a state budget that slashed billions of dollars from health care programs of critical importance to millions of Texans and cut $5.4 billion from the public schools. It was the worst public education budget of his lifetime, the first in more than 60 years to fail to pay for enrollment growth. He orchestrated these cuts and other spending reductions while leaving more than $6 billion of the taxpayers’ money unspent in the Rainy Day Fund. And, he had the gall to say it wasn’t his fault if school districts started laying off teachers.

No one wants to give the governor a Bum Steer? Says who?

The Bum Steer, of course, is designed to entertain as much as educate. And, there is absolutely nothing entertaining about the estimated 32,000 school employees who, so far, have lost their jobs because of Perry’s budget cuts – and the thousands more expected to join them next year. Even in the face of adversity, though, teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other school employees who still have jobs are doing their best for their students. Many are dealing with larger classes, insufficient supplies and outdated textbooks, but they are creating success stories every day.

While Rick Perry will spend much of the holiday season trying to sell a frozen bill of goods to Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire, Texas teachers and other educators – and their students – will be taking some welldeserved time off. So will I, even if my holiday break may not be as wellearned.

I and my colleagues at TSTA wish you a happy season free of bum steers and look forward to seeing you again next year.

-From Texas Monthly

Put the brakes on runaway charter plan

Austin ISD board president Mark Williams admitted last night what has been obvious to just about everyone else in Austin for several weeks now. The school district has “rushed” a controversial proposal to hand over two schools in East Austin to a charter school operator and has conducted a “poor” process for seeking public input.

Both the rush job and the poor public information process have been driven by Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, whose apparent fascination with the charter operator, IDEA Public Schools, is outdone only by her disdain for Austin ISD parents and taxpayers who don’t share her view. Carstarphen wants to give IDEA, which is based in South Texas, a contract to take over Eastside High School and Allan Elementary, despite strong community opposition – from parents, students and Education Austin, the TSTA affiliate that represents many teachers and other AISD employees.

The board slowed down Carstarphen’s runaway freight train by postponing a vote on the IDEA proposal until next Monday, at which time it needs to apply the brakes even more firmly. The proposed IDEA contract needs further study. The Austin AmericanStatesman, which also has been urging more review, has gone so far as to label the superintendent’s proposals “halfbaked.”

IDEA has received some acclaim for its charter operations in South Texas, but there has been research indicating that IDEA engages in some “cherry picking,” choosing mostly the best and the brightest students for its schools, instead of trying to educate every child who comes along, as traditional public schools do.

According to former University of Texas researcher Ed Fuller (who now is at Penn State), IDEA starts with a student body that has fewer lowperforming and economically disadvantaged students than traditional public schools. Yet, traditional public schools will continue to educate the vast majority of children in Texas and in Austin, even if the AISD board were to adopt Carstarphen’s proposal to divert tax dollars to the private charter operator.

Carstarphen has challenged the thoroughness and objectivity of Fuller’s research. But she needs to do more than that. She needs to have the district conduct its own objective research into IDEA’s methods and record and share those findings with the public. Then, if she still thinks IDEA is a good idea for AISD, she needs to methodically make her case with the public and the board, not create artificial deadlines for the board to rubberstamp her proposal.

What’s “good” for schools not good enough for insurers

Remember when Gov. Rick Perry a few years ago issued an executive order purporting to require school districts to spend 65 percent of their budgets on classroom instruction? The order, of dubious constitutional validity, was issued to give Perry cover for underfunding the public schools while perpetuating the rightwing myth that schools were awash in wasteful administrative spending.

Education groups pushed back, and the state education commissioner’s eventual response to the order was to draft an ambiguous, virtually meaningless rule.

Why the history lesson? Well, the federal government has issued a rule requiring insurance companies to spend at least 80 percent of their premium revenue from individual health care policies on (what else?) medical care or customer refunds. This is the part of the new health care law, and it certainly could help a lot of consumers, maybe even some school employees, who purchase health insurance individually, rather than through group policies. It is designed to limit how much insurance companies can spend their customer dollars on administrative costs and profits.

Now, guess what Gov. Perry thinks about this rule? If you are guessing that he opposes it, you would be correct, even though most insurance companies spend a whole lot more of your money on administrative expenses and perks than school districts do. The governor’s handpicked insurance commissioner is asking for a phasein waiver from the federal requirement, which, if granted, would cost about 745,000 Texans a total of $260 million in lost insurance rebates over three years. That’s how many Texans buy insurance in the individual market, according to the story linked below, rather than through group policies.

Anyone detect a bit of inconsistency on the part of our governor? Well, he is running a consistently awful presidential campaign. Give him credit for that, anyway.

It’s official: Legislative arm details education cuts

With the campaign season drawing nigh, you can expect a number of incumbent state legislators to continue trying to cover their backsides with denials that they voted last spring to slash funding for the public schools. Now, you no longer have to take TSTA’s word for the fact that they are lying. The House Research Organization, an arm of the Legislature that deals with facts rather than political gamesmanship, has issued its official report, detailing how bad the cuts were.

The report, entitled, “Texas Budget Highlights” (Lowlights would have been better) is linked at the bottom of this post.

Among other things, the report notes that state aid to school districts through funding formulas and holdharmless provisions in the Foundation School Program will be reduced by $4 billion over the next two years. Sound familiar? And, it points out, an additional $1.3 billion has been cut from public education grants outside the Foundation School Program.

Major programs and initiatives NOT funded include:

# new instructional facilities
# teacher mentor programs
# certain dropout prevention programs, including the Texas High School Completion Success Initiative
# prekindergarten grants
# extended school day and extended school year programs
# life skills classes for teen parents
# science labs
# background checks for school personnel
# arts education grant

And, here are some other lowlights:

# A $263 million cut in the Student Success Initiative, a grant program to help students unlikely to meet the new STAAR testing requirements.
# A #104.1 million reduction in general revenue funding for textbooks and other instructional materials
# A $146.5 million cut in spending on the Teacher Retirement System pension fund
# A $120 million reduction in spending on TRSCare, the public education retiree health insurance program. The state’s contribution rate to TRSCare will be cut in half in fiscal 2013. Retirees may see an increase in their health insurance premiums.

This is just the education part of the budget, folks. When the deniers keep denying and they will DON’T BELIEVE THEM!

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