Monthly Archives: September 2017

Robert E. Lee? OK, but what about James Bowie?


Dallas ISD is one of the latest school districts to go through the controversial process of erasing the names of slavery defenders from its schools. A difficult part that process is deciding where to stop. The old South, including Texas, is full of memorials to racism and a lost cause erected years after the Civil War by people who refused to believe that all people, in fact, were created equal.

The issue of removing Confederate statues and renaming schools resurfaced following the recent white supremacy violence in Charlottesville, Va.

For now, according to The Dallas Morning News, DISD is going to consider renaming only schools that bear the names of Confederate generals. That means elementary schools that now honor the memories of Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, Stonewall Jackson and William L. Cabell may soon be relabeled.

Other schools carrying the names of individuals who had slaves or other connections to the Confederacy, such as Thomas Jefferson High School and John H. Reagan Elementary School, will be keeping their names, at least for now. These include James Bowie Elementary School.

James Bowie, of course, has long been considered a Texas “hero” because of his death at the Alamo. Lesser known, though, is the fact that long before his arrival in San Antonio, he was a slave-trader. He and his brother, Rezin, bought slaves from the pirate Jean Laffite on Galveston Island and resold them in Louisiana. According to the Handbook of Texas, they made $65,000 – more than $1 million in today’s dollars — at their despicable business before retiring and investing their profits in land speculation.

Who committed the greater sin? Robert E. Lee or James Bowie? Were they equally guilty of perpetuating an evil practice, or was Bowie somehow “exonerated” by his death at the Alamo?

I have two children, now grown, who graduated from James Bowie High School in Austin ISD, and I doubt that more than a handful of parents during their time there knew about Bowie’s unsavory past.

“Are there names of other people that somebody might want to change in the future?” DISD Board President Dan Micciche asked.

There may be.



Pope Francis: Respect for life applies to the Dreamers


Perhaps the most interesting response to President Trump’s decision to end DACA, the immigration haven for about 800,000 young people, has come from Pope Francis. Like TSTA and milllions of Americans, the Pope believes the decision was a mistake.

Sure, the president deferred any deportation action against the so-called Dreamers for six months to give Congress time to enact legislation reauthorizing the program, but he has put the lives of these young people in limbo as they await action from a Congress that usually has difficulty even agreeing on the time of day.

Pointing out the cruelty inherent in making these Dreamers subject to deportation, Pope Francis said the decision to end the DACA program means Trump may not be as “pro-life” has he has previously claimed.

“The president of the United States presents himself as pro-life, and if he is a good pro-lifer he understands that family is the cradle of life and its unity must be protected,” the Pope said aboard his plane this week, according to news reports, as he returned to the Vatican from a trip to Colombia.

Although undocumented, these young people, including about 120,000 in Texas, were brought to the United States as infants or young children, and they consider themselves Americans because this is the only home most of them have ever known. Deporting them would break up thousands of families throughout the country.

The Pope, of course, is one of the world’s most outspoken “pro-life” or anti-abortion advocates. As president, Trump claims to be anti-abortion, although his record on that issue has not been consistent over the years.

TSTA takes stands on education, not abortion. We have members on both sides of the abortion issue, and we respect their beliefs. But TSTA wholeheartedly agrees with Pope Francis that the respect for life obviously extends to the living, all the living, including undocumented young people who are students in our schools and universities, teachers in our classrooms and productive members of our work force.





School funding architect is now hurricane czar


It is encouraging that Gov. Greg Abbott has appointed John Sharp to be his hurricane czar, the person who will be responsible for overseeing the huge task of rebuilding Texas from the ravages of Hurricane Harvey.

Sharp is an experienced government policymaker with a reputation as a doer, not an ideologue or bombastic tweeter. He has had a long career as Legislative Budget Board examiner, legislator, Railroad Commissioner, state comptroller and now Texas A&M chancellor. Sharp also was an architect of our current, inadequate school funding system, although the ultimate failure isn’t his fault.

Sharp chaired a task force appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, his one-time political rival, that proposed the tax plan that the Legislature enacted in 2006 to temporarily lower school property taxes and replace the old state franchise tax with the under-performing margins tax as a new source of revenue for schools and other state programs.

This alleged “swap” allowed Perry to brag about “cutting” property taxes, even though the reductions were transitory and were soon wiped out as taxes continued to rise with increasing property values. The new margins tax never was intended to generate as much revenue as the franchise tax, and it has performed even worse than expected.

From the day the margins tax was enacted, business people have continuously whined about it, and the Legislature has responded with a series of cuts. This year, the legislative majority went so far as to order an eventual phaseout of the margins tax without approving a source of revenue to replace it.

Meanwhile, school property taxes continue to increase as state funding for public education continues to decline and schools remain underfunded. These include schools in Harvey’s path that now face huge recovery challenges compounded by enormous losses to their property tax bases.

Schools do their jobs everyday, not just during emergencies


The news media have carried numerous stories this week about the challenges that Hurricane Harvey has imposed on public schools and the people who work in them. Some schools were heavily damaged by winds or floodwaters and will be closed for weeks or months, displacing students and educators alike. Many school districts outside of the storm area are accepting thousands of students who can’t return to their homes or their familiar schools anytime soon.

One of these districts is Austin ISD, which, according to the Austin American-Statesman, could end up accepting several thousand refugee students from storm-battered districts. This is what we expect our educators to do, and they do it. Ironically, though, AISD’s willingness to go the extra mile to do its job amplifies the refusal of some state officials to do theirs, preferring instead to transfer the task to local taxpayers.

The American-Statesman also pointed out, in a story linked below, how Austin ISD residents are about to be clobbered again with higher property taxes, even as their school district begins welcoming evacuees. Because of rising property values and the refusal of many of our state leaders to consider significant increases in state education funding, the average homeowner in AISD will pay an additional $374 this year in school property taxes.

That will bring the average school tax bill in AISD to $4,291, and about $1,700 of that will go to the state to be redistributed among poorer school districts under the so-called Robin Hood law. Because of pricey real estate within its boundaries, AISD pays more Robin Hood money to the state – an anticipated $534 million this year — than any other school district.

This law, enacted in 1993, was designed to comply with a court order to reduce inequities between property rich and property poor districts, but it has become outdated. Austin ISD is considered wealthy because of its tax base, even though more than half of its students are from low-income families. The law is now being abused by state leaders to let local property taxpayers relieve them of their constitutional duty to adequately fund public education.

The more money local taxpayers fork over, the more state officials can brag about keeping state taxes low. Some of these same officials, notably Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, also hypocritically pretend to be concerned about the size of local property tax bills. But don’t believe them because they aren’t willing to really do something about it. I am not talking about emergency funding for hurricane recovery. I am talking about increasing everyday, basic school financial support.

Remember how Abbott and Patrick tried to con the Legislature into enacting Senate Bill 1 during the recent special session? That bill, which failed, wouldn’t have reduced property taxes in Austin ISD or any other district. It didn’t even apply to school taxes. But it would have made it more difficult for cities and counties to raise the necessary revenue to provide police and fire protection and other necessary public services.

Most local property taxes are for schools. And the only way to reduce them is to increase state education funding and change the school finance system, which Speaker Joe Straus and a majority of House members tried to do twice this year, during the regular and summer special sessions. The Senate majority, led by Dan Patrick, killed both efforts.



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