Monthly Archives: February 2012

Suing to undermine, not improve, the public schools

The many school districts, parents and other plaintiffs filing multiple school finance lawsuits against the state over the past 30 years have tried to force the Legislature to improve the public schools. A motion filed late last week in the latest round of litigation has a different smell to it. It seeks to hasten the job of dismantling public education.

If the latest plaintiffs, a group calling itself Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education (or TREE), have their way, the attack on public schools, already being waged at the statehouse by Gov. Perry and the legislative majority, will continue in the courts. These plaintiffs aren’t interested in boosting public resources to improve educational opportunities for all students. They want instead to divert tax dollars to make it easier for a relatively small group of parents to send their children to charter schools and maybe private schools as well.

Austin businessman James Jones, one of the leaders of the group, admits to being inspired by Waiting for Superman, a documentary that came out a couple of years ago suggesting (wrongly) that problems with public education could be magically solved if more children would win lotteries for admission to charter schools. What the movie failed to point out was that charters, as a whole, are no more successful than traditional public schools. And, the vast majority of children will continue to be educated in traditional public schools, regardless how many charters of varying degrees of quality pop up on the landscape.

The group’s vice chairman is former State Rep. Kent Grusendorf of Arlington, a strong advocate of siphoning tax dollars for private school vouchers who wore out his welcome with his former constituents a couple of elections ago.

And, the group’s supporting cast is infiltrated with former staffers for Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, both of whom insisted on the $5.4 billion in cuts that the legislative majority inflicted on the public schools last year. This cast of characters wants to give the Texas Supreme Court, which ultimately will decide the school finance litigation, the opportunity to complete their public education wrecking campaign.

“Our suit is about the outcomes for the children rather than just the inputs to the system,” said Chris Diamond, one of TREE’s lawyers. What he and his clients won’t admit, however, is the more tax support the charter and private school advocates take from the public schools, the more the outcomes (i.e. quality preparation for the future) for the vast majority of Texas children will suffer.

Like his policies, Perry’s education figures are wrong

You may have noticed that Gov. Rick Perry did a round of interviews with Texas news reporters this week, apparently in an effort to keep anyone from applying the “lame duck” tag to a governor whose educational “policies” would be lame if they weren’t so harmful.

His main educational “policy,” if you want to call it that, has been to slash and burn public education, beginning in 2006 and then to an even greater degree last year. Yet, Perry continues to insist that Texas is spending plenty on our public schools.

“We’re still spending approximately $10,000 per student in Texas,” he claimed.

Actually, Texas spent $9,446 per student in 201011, according to new state education rankings from the National Education Association (NEA). And, NEA estimated, that amount plummeted to $8,908 per student (a decrease of $538) during the current 201112 school year, which absorbed the initial impact of $5.4 billion in education cuts approved by Perry and the legislative majority last spring.

These figures are based on average daily attendance (ADA), the standard by which school districts receive state aid. The national average for ADA expenditures for 201011 was $11,305. Texas ranked 41st among the states then and is probably even lower now, because while Texas’ average was dropping, the national average was rising to $11,463 for 201112. Texas is now more than $2,500 per student below the national average in ADA spending.

If you calculate the per student expenditures on enrollment, Texas fares even more poorly. On that basis, Texas spent $8,751 per student in 201011, ranking 42nd. The national average was $10,770. And, according to NEA, Texas’ per enrollee expenditure dropped to $8,265 (a $486 decrease) in 201112. The national average, meanwhile, rose to $10,976.

Guess what, folks? Those expenditures, either way you calculate them, are going to drop even more for 201213, unless the governor and the legislative majority heed TSTA’s call to stop the bleeding now. There is more than $7 billion of taxpayers’ money sitting in the bank in the Rainy Day Fund, doing nobody any good. It is time for the governor to call the Legislature into special session and spend $2.5 billion of that amount to restore the budget cuts for 201213. The economy is improving, and the fund will continue to replenish itself, leaving enough money for other state emergencies.

Perry, who hints at another reelection race in 2014 or even another presidential campaign in 2016, apparently feels the need to rehabilitate his political reputation following his recent, embarrassing presidential stumblethon. He should start by repairing some of the damage he has inflicted on our schools.

Tell the governor to stop the bleeding and restore the education cuts now by signing TSTA’s petition. You can find it by clicking on this link:

A STAAR reprieve is not the problem

If the Texas Association of Business really wants to rid this state of obstacles to educational quality, it needs to start by looking in the mirror. At almost every opportunity, the business group tries to portray itself as a champion of good public schools, but its political record screams just the opposite.

TAB is not part of the solution. It is a big part of the problem.

Just this week, in Central Texas alone, at least three more school districts were in the news because of continued fallout from the deep damage that Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative majority inflicted on the public education budget last spring. Waco ISD is considering the closure of several neighborhood schools, Killeen ISD may eliminate 35 teaching positions and Hutto ISD $1.2 million short for the next school year may ax some elementary music and art teachers, increase class sizes or charge students to ride the bus.

But what has TAB President and CEO Bill Hammond been complaining about? He is upset that the state education commissioner may give ninth graders a oneyear reprieve from a requirement that the new STAAR endofcourse exams count toward 15 percent of their final grades. That would be only fair for the students, since they and their teachers – thanks to $5.4 billion in state budget cuts have fewer resources to prepare for the tests and, more importantly, maintain a strong learning environment.

In a letter to legislators this week, Hammond criticized any effort to delay the impact of the unproven new tests.

“Texas is on the road to ruin if we do not raise our standards in public education,” he wrote to lawmakers. Last week, his group took out a newspaper ad to champion the new testing system.

Teachers and parents certainly support higher standards, but achieving those standards requires much more than another standardized test. Despite Hammond’s protests, delaying the full implementation of a dubious “accountability” system for school children is going to have almost no impact on educational quality. Of far greater impact are the $5.4 billion in cuts to education funding imposed by the governor and the legislative majority, whom Hammond’s group refuses to hold accountable.

TAB’s political action committee, in fact, is a longtime supporter of the governor and, during the 2010 election cycle, supported Perry’s reelection and the election of many of the legislators who voted for the education budget cuts, while leaving more than $7 billion of taxpayers’ money unspent in the Rainy Day Fund.

If Texas is “on the road to ruin,” as Hammond claims in his letter to legislators, it isn’t because ninthgraders may get a break on a test. It is because Gov. Perry and the legislative majority continue to slash away at public education (there also were significant cuts in 2006), while continuing to enjoy political support from influential business groups, such as TAB.

If the Texas Association of Business really wants to make a positive difference for the public schools, Hammond and its other leaders can start by joining TSTA and demand that the governor call a special session now to appropriate $2.5 billion of the Rainy Day money to restore cuts for the 201213 school year. Several thousand teachers already have lost their jobs, and more than 8,200 elementary classes are larger than the limit allowed by state law. More classes will become overcrowded, and more schools will be closed if the bleeding isn’t stopped now.

Then, in the nottoodistant future, TAB should demand that the Legislature enact a morepermanent, adequate school finance system with an equitable revenue source that grows with the state’s economy. Texas’ future business workforce, after all, is at stake, and how it turns out will depend on much more than a new standardized test for children.

During last year’s legislative session, Hammond, to his credit, proposed that the Legislature spend $6 billion of the Rainy Day Fund. But Perry and the lawmakers that TAB helped to elect ignored him and spent only about half that much, while slashing the budget. Now, Hammond should repeat that demand.

TSTA’s stopthecutsnow petition can be found at this link:

School closures: You get what you elect

Elections have consequences, a reality that the parents, children and teachers of Waco ISD are confronting as that district continues to struggle with the consequences of deep cuts to the state’s public education budget.

Two years ago, McLennan County, in which Waco ISD is located, voted overwhelmingly to reelect Gov. Rick Perry. Area voters also elected Brian Birdwell to the Texas Senate, reelected veteran State Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson to the Texas House and, for a second House seat, rejected a longtime incumbent with a strong propublic education record in favor of a newcomer, State Rep. Marva Beck.

Last year, Gov. Perry demanded deep cuts in public school funding, and Birdwell, Anderson and Beck agreed and voted for education cuts that ultimately totaled $5.4 billion. (Anderson didn’t vote for the final version of the budget, but he supported deep spending reductions for the public schools throughout the appropriations process.)

Now, this month, the budgetstrapped Waco school board is weighing a proposal to close four neighborhood elementary schools, shut down a successful high school academy and merge two middle schools and move them to the academy campus. If the plan is adopted, hundreds of school children will see their routines disrupted and face the prospect of morecrowded classes and an erosion of educational quality. And, who knows how many jobs for teachers and other school employees will be at stake.

All this could have been avoided if the governor, the three Waco lawmakers and other members of the legislative majority had fulfilled their constitutional duty to adequately fund the public schools. Instead, they chose to bow to antigovernment ideologues, even to the point of leaving more than $7 billion of taxpayers’ money unspent in the Rainy Day Fund. There it still sits, and the fund is growing, as Waco and other school districts throughout the state prepare for another round of spending reductions in the 201213 school year.

TSTA challenges the teachers, parents and other taxpayers in Waco to sign our petition, urging the governor to call the Legislature into special session now and spend $2.5 billion of the Rainy Day Fund to save neighborhood schools by restoring the education cuts for 201213. Demand that Birdwell, Anderson and Beck as well as members of the Waco school board sign it.

There will be legislative elections this year, offering a chance for Waco voters who value their public schools to demand more accountability from the people they send to Austin. But there is enough money in the Rainy Day Fund to stop the cuts – and the school bleeding now.

Click on this link to sign the petition: