Category Archives: school finance

A lot of votes, including educators’, are being taken for granted

 

If you are an educator or just about any other middle-class, working Texan, you can find a lot about government to complain about. Your local property taxes continue to soar. You may be discovering the added irritation and growing expense of toll road bills, even as you continue to spend hours every week trying to crawl through clogged traffic.

You may have lost count of the officeholders, including the Tweeter-in-Chief, who deny proven facts, including the science behind global warming, in favor of embracing political fantasy. And if you are a teacher, the U.S. House of Representatives just gave you a big slap in the face by voting to kill that very modest $250 tax deduction you have been getting for buying school supplies for your under-funded classes.

I could go on, but you probably get the idea.

All problems that negatively affect our daily lives and our children’s futures are the consequences of elections, the consequences of electing officeholders who would rather preach ideology or pander to fear and ignorance than actually try to govern. They also are the consequences of not voting, which thousands of Texans fail to do, because of indifference, frustration or intimidation.

Property taxes are sky high because officials like the governor and the lieutenant governor would rather waste political energy trying to tell a handful of transgender school kids where they can’t use the bathroom than adequately pay for classrooms for everybody’s children. They want to preach their own perverted brand of “morality” and pass the buck on what really counts.

Texas roads and highways are overloaded partly because of our growing population but also because of the refusal for years of most elected officials to raise the taxes necessary to address the problem. Instead, they stole some tax revenue from education and health care, transferred it to highways and suckered the public into thinking that would help speed up your drive home. It hasn’t.

They also embraced tolls and now are wailing crocodile tears because tolls have soared and become so unpopular with toll-payers still stuck in traffic.

These inane government “leaders” who neglect our schools, highways, health care and basic childhood safety – Child Protective Services also is under-funded and many kids still are vulnerable – nevertheless are shameless. To distract from their own deficiencies, they may quote the Bible. Then they bully and spread hate against law-abiding, hard-working immigrants, transgender citizens and low-income women in need of health care. I am not talking about abortion rights. I am talking about basic, life-saving health care that no longer is available to many women because clinics were shut down under the guise of fighting abortion.

Who elected these officials? Lots of people did. Look in the mirror. You may have been one of them.

If so, they have been taking your votes – or your indifference about voting — for granted. They have been doing it for a long time. And if you are a teacher, the U.S. House majority just did it again by taking away your $250 tax deduction.

If you are tired of all this, there is something you can do about it. There are elected officials and candidates out there who really do want to meet our education, transportation, health care and other important public needs, but they have been out-numbered by those who take your votes or indifference for granted. Another election is around the corner, beginning with the March party primaries, and it is time for more educators and middle-class Texans to start voting in their own best interests for a change.

 

 

Two judicial views of education, school kids

 

This is an abbreviated tale of two judges. One was a legal and civil rights giant who opened the doors of public schools to millions of children. The other is better known as a conservative Tweeter who has neglected the needs of school kids.

It may be absurd to contrast Don Willett with the late Thurgood Marshall because the historical deck overwhelmingly is stacked in favor of Marshall, but that’s the way my mind works some times. I am prodded by the coincidence of Willett’s nomination by President Donald Trump to a federal appellate court coming only a few days before the 50th anniversary of Marshall taking his seat as the first African American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Even before his Supreme Court appointment, Marshall had made history as an NAACP attorney who convinced the high court to outlaw segregation in U.S. public schools in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954. Marshall, the grandson of a slave, later became U.S. solicitor general and made history again when President Lyndon Johnson appointed him to the Supreme Court. He took his seat on Oct. 2, 1967.

Because of economic discrimination, housing patterns and not-so-subtle racism, the fight over segregated schools still isn’t over, but the landmark court ruling that Marshall won has given millions of children of color access to public educations they otherwise would not have known.

Willett, one of Trump’s choices for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was one year old when Marshall joined the nation’s high court. More recently, Willett has been a conservative justice with an active Twitter account on an all-Republican Texas Supreme Court. Last year, he and his colleagues had the opportunity to strike an overdue blow for the school children of Texas. All they had to do was uphold a strongly worded, well-thought-out opinion by a lower-court judge that the state’s woefully underfunded school finance system was unconstitutional.

Instead, Willett and his colleagues reversed the lower court and upheld the school finance law, with Willett writing the majority opinion. Willett compounded the court’s failure by admitting that the funding system was very bad but just wasn’t bad enough to order the Legislature to do anything about it. I guess you could call that a political-judicial handwashing.

The court’s free pass gave Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick all the encouragement they needed to beat back attempts by Speaker Joe Straus and the House to improve school funding during this year’s legislative sessions. School children and local taxpayers in under-funded school districts will continue to suffer the consequences.

Although Willett tweeted several criticisms of Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump included the Texas judge’s name on his first list of potential Supreme Court nominees. Now, Willett is settling for a seat on the 5th Circuit instead.

He tweeted that he was “honored and humbled” by the Tweeter-in-Chief’s decision, leaving a less-than-historic judicial record behind in Texas.

 

Straus under attack for promoting Texas instead of the political fringe

 

A fringe group of Republicans – including super-wealthy right-wingers who want to turn public education and the rest of state government into a cash cow of privatization – are trying to convince local GOP governing committees around the state to censure Texas House Speaker Joe Straus.

Straus is a Republican who actually wants to govern, not bully, discriminate or regress, and that’s what this is all about. A sample resolution being peddled by his detractors accuses the speaker of abusing his authority, making a “mockery” of representative government and doing “violence” to the Texas Constitution.

Hogwash.

What the right-wing beef really is all about is Straus’ insistence on putting the priorities of all Texans over the narrow goals of a minority of ideologues who have taken over much of the GOP’s governing apparatus and have a disproportionate influence over its primary elections.

For example, the sample resolution blasts Straus for obstructing legislation to spend tax dollars on private school vouchers, an alleged “Republican principle.” In truth, there always has been strong bipartisan opposition to vouchers, which is why the House for several sessions now has killed the legislation.

The fringe element also castigates Straus for opposing and helping to kill the bathroom bill, which would have discriminated against transgender Texans and singled out transgender school children for bullying. Straus considered the bill despicable and, if enacted, a barrier to future economic development. So did hundreds of prominent business leaders throughout the state, including Republicans, and many Republican members of the House.

The resolution also faults Straus for obstructing Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda, including vouchers, the bathroom bill and a fake property tax “relief” bill that wouldn’t have lowered anyone’s property taxes by a dime. The bill, however, would have made it more difficult for local governments to pay for the fire and police protection, safe water supplies and other public services that even fringe ideologues have come to take for granted.

Straus and the House majority passed legislation during both legislative sessions this year that could have led to real cuts in school property taxes by increasing state funding for public education. The bill would have been a down payment on a new school finance system, but it was rejected by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Senate.

Straus’ approach to school funding and tax cuts is supported by most Texas voters, 79 percent of Republican voters and 86 percent of Democrats, according to bipartisan polling commissioned by TSTA earlier this year.

But Abbott and Patrick continue to spread the lie that Straus killed property tax “relief.” And both have indicated they will support efforts to unseat Straus from the speaker’s office because of his role in defeating vouchers and the bathroom bill as well. Abbott’s agenda is also Patrick’s agenda, a fringe agenda supported by officials who would rather pander than lead.

“When I place my hand on the Bible, and I raise my right hand on the first day of the session, I pledge to uphold the Constitution of the United States and of this state, and not any party convention’s platform,” Straus said.

Or any wishlist concocted by a party’s fringe.

 

 

 

 

After Harvey, school finance fix is more urgent than ever


 

Hurricane Harvey did more than destroy homes and schools. It also wiped out billions of dollars in taxable property values and made it even more urgent for the Legislature to begin work on drafting a new school finance system.

Harvey compounded the problem—exacerbated the folly, you could say – of the state letting local property taxpayers assume an increasing share of public education costs, while the state’s share has slipped well below half. Now, the school finance fix that Speaker Joe Straus and the House majority tried to begin addressing and the Senate rejected twice this year (during the regular and special sessions) will be more expensive.

It also will be more necessary than ever.

According to some estimates, Harvey wiped out between $3 billion and $4 billion in property tax values that has been helping to prop up the school finance system. It may not be necessary to address the issue in a special session, but it is time for the Legislature to begin drafting a plan now so an adequate, equitable and workable school finance solution can be enacted during the next regular session in 2019.

Once again, Straus and the House are likely to take the lead on this issue. Straus already has directed the House Public Education Committee to study the financial implications of Harvey on schools and the potential punitive consequences of STAAR testing and the state’s accountability system on impacted districts and displaced students. The committee is expected to begin its work with a meeting in a couple of weeks.

Incidentally, according to media reports, Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty suffered about $50,000 in damages to his Houston-area home during the storm.

“Harvey has changed everything,” Straus said during a interview over the weekend at the Texas Tribune Festival.

But has it changed the hearts and attitudes of Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick? They have been two of the biggest obstacles to a school finance overhaul, preferring to let local taxes continue to rise with property values while shedding crocodile tears for the people who pay them. The only effective way to lower local property taxes is to increase state funding for schools.

Over the weekend, Patrick sent a political email with photos of him and Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor joining other volunteers helping stricken homeowners with cleanup and repair efforts. The email also included a plea for more volunteers and admitted the “massive” job of recovery was “just beginning.”

“That ‘Texas Strong’ spirit is needed now more than ever,” Patrick said.

A strong, can-do spirit of volunteerism is great, but it isn’t enough. As lieutenant governor and leader of the Senate, Patrick can do much more to help Texans recover from Harvey. He has endorsed tapping into the Rainy Day Fund to help with hurricane recovery. But he also needs to quit being an obstacle to creating a long-term system of adequate and equitable funding of critical public services, including Texas public schools – in the storm area and elsewhere.

 

 

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