Monthly Archives: April 2012

More bad news for charters

Still another study tosses cold water on the idea that charter schools are the magic solution to the country’s educational problems. In fact, charter supporters may find this one more troubling than previous studies, which basically concluded that charter schools, on average, are no better or worse than traditional public schools.

The newest study, conducted by a University of Texas researcher, concludes that African American high school students in Texas are three times more likely to drop out from a charter system than from a traditional public school. An Austin Chronicle article about the study is linked below.

Although already under attack by some charter supporters, the study seems to punch a huge hole in the theory, which charter operators have promoted, that charters offer an educational lifeline to minority students.

The study – “Is Choice a Panacea? – by Julian Vasquez Heilig, an assistant professor in the UT College of Education, compares Texas charter districts with the state’s large urban school districts – Austin, Houston and Dallas – from 1998 to 2008. During that time, the dropout rate for African American high school students in the traditional public schools was 4 percent. It was 13 percent in the charter districts.

Schools need more from business leaders

“Why don’t state’s business leaders stand up to Perry?” That headline on a recent Houston Chronicle column said a lot about why Texas’ public schools are struggling and, in many cases, are headed for worse financial times next year. The entire column by Patricia Kilday Hart is linked below and is well worth reading.

Hart makes the point that many business leaders talk a good game and pass resolutions about government investments in public infrastructure, including a strong public education system, but continue to support a governor and a legislative majority that blindly cuts state spending. One such “education friendly” group is the Greater Houston Partnership. Yet, as Hart points out, its CEO, Jeff Moseley, stood next to Perry last week as the governor announced his rightwing, antispending, antitaxes, antipublic education “budget compact.”

Although not mentioned by Hart, another “proeducation” group that is part of the problem is the Texas Association of Business, which not only backs Perry politically but also endorsed many of the legislators who voted last year to slash $5.4 billion from the public schools.

Although they give lip service to supporting the public schools, many opinion leaders in the business community are more interested in being props for the governor’s agenda – low businesses taxes, a lax business regulatory climate, favors for political contributors and shutting the courthouse doors against consumer lawsuits.

“There’s an important position that desperately needs to be filled,” Hart writes. “Wanted: Texas business leader with the political courage to stand up to Rick Perry.”

Perry is a political bully, and the business community, for the most part, has let him get away with it because he serves their own selfish purposes. If I am being unfair, I would be overjoyed for some business types to start proving me wrong. They can start by helping voters replace antieducation legislators in this year’s elections. If not, they should stop pretending they care about the public schools.


Pandering his way into a historical footnote

As I have written before, Gov. Rick Perry, the longest serving governor in Texas history, lacks a legacy, something positive for which history will remember him. Were Perry to retire today, the most enduring memory he would leave behind for the vast majority of people would be his awkward, 10second “oops” episode during a nationally televised presidential debate last fall. He and that fourletter word forever will be a comic lowlight of presidential politics.

But Perry won’t be retiring today, which means he still has time, if we let him, to complete dismantling the public school system and other essential state services. I suppose you could call that a legacy, but who would want to claim it?

Perry has been in public office for most of his adult life and most of that time has been living full time off the taxpayers. By sheer longevity, political bullying and large specialinterest campaign donors, he has turned a traditionally weak governor’s office into a force to be reckoned with. But he doesn’t govern. He panders, and he panders to the antigovernment ideologues who supposedly dislike what he embodies, a doubledipping, lobbyfed career politician with taxpayerpaid perks running out his ears.

Remember, Perry is pulling down both his $150,000 state salary and early retirement benefits worth another $90,000plus a year. He lives in a rental mansion that costs taxpayers about $10,000 a month, and his recent, inoverhishead presidential campaign cost at least $2.8 million in personal security costs for which the governor refuses to reimburse taxpayers.

Yet, there he was again yesterday, laying out a new “Texas Budget Compact,” an antitax, antispending, antipublic education, antipublic health care, antiprogress manifesto that he is urging legislators and legislative candidates to sign. It is the last thing the governor of Texas should be proposing on the heels of last year’s budget cuts and in the face of an improving state economy. Perry’s compact is reckless and harmful public policy, and it’s not good business for our economy either. But then, this is the same governor who orchestrated the budget cuts, while leaving more than $7 billion of taxpayers’ money in the Rainy Day Fund untouched.

Perry continues to pander, and, unfortunately, so will some lawmakers and candidates who will fall all over themselves to sign the worthless document. Texans deserve better, much better.

Teachers, no less than legislators, deserve sound pensions

As many of you know, there likely will be an attack during next year’s legislative session on public employees’ pensions, including an effort to convert school teachers’ wellearned defined benefits pensions to riskier 401(k)type plans. This will be a continuation in Texas of the rightwing bashing of public service, and it will be promoted by legislators who have one of the sweetest public pension plans in the country.

Texas Tribune writer Ross Ramsey outlines the legislative pension plan in the article linked at the bottom of this post. Legislators have no control over their $600 per month salaries, which admittedly are low but still higher than some antigovernment, educationslashing lawmakers are worth. Legislative salaries are locked in the state constitution and can be raised only with voter approval. But legislators control their own pensions and have been pretty generous to themselves. Legislative pensions are computed on a formula based not on legislative salaries, but on state district judges’ salaries, which are set by the Legislature. Judges’ state pay is now $125,000 a year, and it can be raised whenever legislators see fit. (As in, whenever they decide to increase their retirement pay.)

Legislators who serve at least eight years can start collecting retirement benefits at age 60. Those who serve at least 12 years can start collecting at age 50. According to Ramsey’s calculations, a retired eightyear legislator would get $23,000 a year for life, beginning at age 60. A former lawmaker with 12 years’ service would get $34,500 a year, starting at age 50. These are lifetime defined benefits, the type of pension benefits that some legislators next year are expected to try to take away from teachers and other public workers.

Talmadge Heflin served 22 years in the Texas House before being retired by Houston voters. He qualified for a very generous defined benefit pension from the state $2,875 for every year he was in office, according to The Texas Tribune but now, as an official of the shrinkgovernment Texas Public Policy Foundation, he is among those promoting the elimination of defined benefits plans for public employees.

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas, at the Legislature’s request, is studying the pension issue. TRS is one of the soundest public pension systems in the country, and teachers and other school employee members contribute a large share of the premiums. Most teachers don’t qualify for Social Security and depend on their TRS benefits for much of their retirement nest eggs. It would be hypocritical for legislators to try to take that away from them. But, unfortunately, hypocrisy has never been a disqualification for public office.