Monthly Archives: October 2012

Whining in the wind over education “reform”

Self-styled education “experts” are a dime a dozen and contribute about that much to educational quality in the public schools. Although that description could apply to a number of individuals and groups cluttering the political landscape these days, I am referring specifically this time to the Texas Association of Business (TAB) and the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF).

TAB and TPPF are members of a group calling itself the Texas Coalition for a Competitive Workforce, which is trying to convince the Legislature to save the ill-timed and highly unpopular STAAR testing program. Many parents and educators, on the other hand, believe Texas school children would be much better off if the Legislature were to toss STAAR onto the trash heap next session. And, more than 850 school districts have signed a petition criticizing the state’s over-reliance on standarized, high-stakes testing.

It simply is wrong to base a school accountability system on a single collection of high stakes tests, which is what STAAR does. And it is made worse by the fact that STAAR, a higher hurdle than the TAKS tests it replaced, was imposed on teachers and school children as the legislative majority was slashing $5.4 billion — or more than $500 per student — from school funding. In other words, lawmakers demanded more success from children and teachers while cutting back on the resources – smaller classes, up-to-date books, teaching aides – that help them succeed.

Yet, to hear TAB, TPPF and their allies tell it, you would think that the demise of STAAR would be the end of educated civilization, at least in Texas. Their alliance held a news conference in Austin yesterday and plans others around the state in advance of the legislative session. TAB President and CEO Bill Hammond defended the state’s effort to hold local schools “accountable” for the performance of their students.

Hammond’s declaration to the contrary, the future of public education in Texas does not rest on children’s passing rates on STAAR. Texas already has great teachers and strong school administrators. The future of public education in Texas rests on the commitment of the state leadership in Austin to quality public schools that are adequately and equitably funded. That is why the Texas State Teachers Association continues to protest the budget cuts, and that is why 600 school districts have sued state government over education funding.

Have TAB, TPPF or their allies tried to hold the governor and the legislative majority accountable for their lack of support of public schools? No. In fact, in their own hypocritical fashion, they have done a lot to undermine public schools. TAB is a long-time supporter of Gov. Rick Perry and many members of the legislative majority, which voted last session to cut $5.4 billion from public education and may try to squeeze more money out of classrooms next year. They like Perry’s insistence on keeping taxes low, even at the expense of education and other state services. And, TPPF promotes government privatization for the benefit of its members, and it encourages all the budget-cutting. In TPPF’s view, the more privatization and profiteering at the expense of public education, the better. TAB and TPPF also propose the siphoning of more tax dollars from public education to support a private school voucher program.

TAB and TPPF are part of the problem. Neither group knows the first thing about education “reform.” So, keep that in mind as they continue their whine-song over STAAR. If they really want to improve the public schools – and the rank-and-file TAB business membership should demand it –they should demand that the governor and the legislative majority start restoring school funding.

Otherwise, they are whining in the wind.

 

More mistruth from an education-cutter in Houston

 

Like several of her budget-cutting allies, State Rep. Sarah Davis of Houston’s House District 134 would rather be reelected than tell the truth. So, in a new mailer in which she tries to confuse voters with a jumble of misleading charts and figures, she claims falsely that the Legislature increased funding for public education last year. The truthful bottom line is that Davis voted with the legislative majority to slash $5.4 billion from public school budgets.

In a preposterous stretch of political imagination, Davis also blames President Obama for school funding problems that were created by Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative majority.  It is the same false argument that State Reps. Jason Isaac of Dripping Springs and Dee Margo of El Paso, among others, also have been trying to peddle in denial of their education-cutting votes.

Gov. Perry and the legislative majority dug Texas’ public schools into a deep budget hole in 2006 by ordering cuts in school property taxes without raising enough state revenue to repay local school districts. By 2009, with the school deficit growing, Perry and the Legislature refused to raise state taxes. Instead, they used several billion dollars of federal economic stimulus money to close the gap. President Obama championed the stimulus money to help states through the recession. Perry and the legislative majority chose to use the one-time-only money to temporarily relieve themselves of a school finance burden.

The federal stimulus money was no longer available in 2011, but the education deficit had grown to $5 billion a year, and the responsibility for addressing it belonged to the governor and the Legislature, not the president. Davis says the Legislature spent $1.6 billion in state funds that it hadn’t spent in 2009, but it didn’t come close to fully funding public education. Instead, the legislative majority, including Davis, changed the law and, for the first time in more than 60 years, approved a budget that failed to meet the state’s responsibility for funding enrollment growth.

With school enrollment increasing statewide by 80,000 to 85,000 students a year, the shortfall in district formula funding over the two-year budget period amounted to $4 billion. Add to that another $1.4 billion that Davis and the legislature majority cut from pre-kindergarten, dropout prevention and other public school grants and the cuts for the two-year budget period totaled $5.4 billion.

As were most school districts throughout Texas, Houston ISD and Spring Branch ISD in House District 134 were hard hit. According to Legislative Budget Board estimates, HISD lost $126.9 million for this school year alone, or about $490 per student. Spring Branch lost $20.8 million, or about $512 per student. Those losses were in addition to more than $36 million combined that the two districts lost, according to Texas Education Agency estimates, during the last school year.

This means lost educator jobs, overcrowded classrooms and weakened educational opportunities for thousands of young Texans. At least 25,000 school employees, including almost 11,000 teachers, have lost jobs so far. To make matters worse, the cuts could have been avoided by tapping into $6 billion that was available last year in the Rainy Day Fund. But Davis voted with Gov. Perry and the legislative majority to leave that money untouched.  Now, the Rainy Day Fund has swelled to $8 billion while school districts continue to cut programs.

The Texas State Teachers Association is supporting Ann Johnson against Davis because Johnson truly values public schools and, apparently unlike Davis, knows how to add and subtract. Johnson has attacked Davis over the budget cuts, and Davis has responded by falsely accusing Johnson of spreading “fiction.”

But Johnson is telling the truth. Davis isn’t.

 

 

 

Remembering a hero for education and opportunity

 

TSTA Public Affairs Director Ed Martin fought the good fight with the late State Senator Mario Gallegos for many years. Here are Ed’s reflections on the senator and his passing:

“Every Texan who values public education lost a true champion this week. Every Texan who values voting rights lost a true champion, too. And every one of us who believes in loyalty, community, and public service lost a kindred spirit, State Senator Mario Gallegos, who passed away Tuesday afternoon.

“For those of us who knew Mario, there is a profound sense of loss. Mario had a genuine presence and a certainty that would never go unnoticed. Whether one knew Mario as a family member, a firefighter, a political compatriot, a friend or a neighbor, you knew what Mario believed, what he felt, and what he was all about.  When Mario was on your side, he was all the way in with you. There wasn’t an ounce of blow dried politician in him.

“Mario was the first Hispanic State Senator to represent Houston and Harris County, which is now home to over 1.7 million Hispanics, and Mario’s pulse beat to the rhythm of his community. He understood the essential value of education from that perspective – and he did not need a calculator to compute the value of education and the educators who worked in the classrooms in his community.

“Mario understood that an educated child can realize the opportunity to be free and succeed, and for over 21 years in the legislature, he was always “all in” for the children and the educators he represented. Mario the firefighter was determined to make sure no one and nothing burned down the dream and the opportunity provided by education, the right to vote and the right to be treated with respect, without prejudice. And, every time the bell rang, he stood and fought the fight – even when he had to get up from a liver transplant to do it.

“Mario Gallegos was a human being – full of perfection and imperfection, good and not so good – just like every one of us. When he came back to the Senate to fight the Voter ID bill in 2007, I worked with Mario on a column he submitted to the Houston Chronicle to explain the importance of the fight that brought him and his hospital bed to the Senate. After we’d gone over some edits over the phone, Mario said, “Ed, do you think Billie Carr and Mickey Leland are looking down on us now and smiling?”

“Mario, please say hi to Billie and Mickey and all the rest. And know this: when you look down and see us fighting the good fight and laughing and crying as a family of good human beings, you are right here with us – we did not lose you.”

 

School cuts breed hypocrisy

 

So far, I have been reluctant to use the word, “lie,” during this political season, but the misleading and fabricated reelection rhetoric of the Legislature’s education-cutters is getting out of hand. So, let’s be polite, but clear. State Rep. Jason Isaac of Dripping Springs is not telling the truth, and he isn’t the only one.

In a recent flyer, Isaac claims to have voted to increase the state’s share of education funding by $2 billion. He did nothing of the kind. Isaac can tie his tongue in knots trying to explain how he came up with that figure, but in truth he voted for Texas’ worst public education budget in more than 60 years, the first during that period that failed to account for enrollment growth.

With statewide enrollment increasing by 80,000 to 85,000 students each year, Isaac voted to cut $4 billion from the state’s commitment to public schools plus another $1.4 billion in grants for key programs, such as pre-kindergarten and dropout prevention. That’s a total CUT of $5.4 billion over the past two school years, or a reduction of more than $500 a year for each of Texas’ school children.

School districts in House District 45, which Isaac purports to represent, lost about $23 million of the total, according to Texas Education Agency estimates. And, Isaac voted for the cuts while leaving $6 billion of taxpayer money unspent in the Rainy Day Fund. He chose to obey Texas’ ideologue-in-chief, Gov. Rick Perry, a proponent of school privatization schemes, rather than represent the best interests of his constituents.

In his piece of campaign fiction, Isaac says he will work to ensure more money is spent in the classroom and will “reward good teachers with higher pay.” He also brags about voting last year against teacher unions so school districts could keep “their best and brightest teachers regardless of seniority.”

In truth, Isaac’s vote cost thousands of Texas’ best and brightest teachers their jobs. Almost 11,000 teachers were among the 25,000 school employees who lost jobs during the 2011-2012 school year alone. Thousands of students were crammed into overcrowded classrooms because Isaac and his fellow Perry allies voted to spend less, not more, money in the classroom. And, average teacher pay decreased for the first time in years.

Educators, parents and everyone else in House District 45 in Central Texas would be a lot better off voting for challenger John Adams, a former Dripping Springs school board member who knows that good local schools need more from the Legislature than hollow campaign rhetoric. The Texas State Teachers Association is backing Adams.

Here are some other education-cutters who also are seeking reelection but refuse to be truthful with voters. I have written about them before, but here is a rehash of Hypocrites’ Row:

# State Rep. Dee Margo, District 78, El Paso – In a fabricated argument similar to Isaac’s, he claims to have put “education funding on solid ground.” In truth, he also voted to cut $5.4 billion from the public schools. His opponent, Joe Moody, who is supported by TSTA, is a proven education advocate who will work to repair the damage.

# State Rep. Sarah Davis, District 134, Houston – She campaigns for “excellence in education” but voted to undermine the public schools with a $5.4 billion cut. Vote for Ann Johnson, her TSTA-endorsed opponent.

# State Rep. Stefani  Carter, District 102, Dallas – She portrays herself as a champion of education and claims to have voted against a school-budget cutting bill. But, in truth, she also voted for the $5.4 billion cut. TSTA is supporting her opponent, Rich Hancock.

# State Rep. Connie Scott, District 34, Corpus Christi – She claims to be “committed to improving public education.” Then why did she vote for the $5.4 billion education cut? Abel Herrero, her TSTA-endorsed opponent, is a far-better choice for voters.

# State Rep. John Garza, District 117, San Antonio – He defends his vote for deep cuts in school funding by claiming the Legislature didn’t have enough money to avoid them. The truth is he and his colleagues in the majority left $6 billion unspent in the Rainy Day Fund, more than enough money to avoid the attack on public education. Garza brags about being tight-fisted. TSTA is supporting his challenger, Philip Cortez, because Cortez brags about the importance of public schools and will advocate for them.

Other education-cutters are out there, I am sure, also trying to dodge their votes as they campaign for reelection.  If only their commitment to public schools was as strong as their ability to spin yarns.