Uncategorized

Proposition 4 is anti-public education

House Bill 3, which provided billions of dollars in new state aid for educator pay raises and other classroom needs, got most of the attention during this year’s legislative session, as well it should have. It had been several years since the Legislature made such a heavy investment in Texas’ future, and it happened only because TSTA members and other educators voted education first in last year’s legislative elections.

We replaced several anti-education incumbents in the House and the Senate with new lawmakers who knew that being pro-public schools was much more than and smile and a pat on the nearest teacher’s head.

But the Legislature, with the votes of several lawmakers who should have known better, also slipped in and passed a proposed constitutional amendment that will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot as Proposition 4. If voters approve it, its effects may not be felt for years, but eventually it could end up shuttering public schools and crippling other important services.

Proposition 4 would make it more difficult to enact a personal income tax, something that isn’t going to happen in Texas anytime soon anyway. But of more critical importance to Texas’ future, Proposition 4 also would wipe out a constitutional provision that dedicates any future income tax revenue to education.

This provision, the so-called Bullock amendment, was added to the Texas Constitution, with voter approval, in 1993, when the legislative majority had a much keener sense of the future and the growing needs of a growing state than the current state leadership demonstrates. The provision says that a personal income tax can be imposed in Texas only with the approval of a majority of Texas voters. And at least two thirds of the revenue from an income tax would have to be spent to reduce school property taxes and the remainder to increase education funding.

All that potential education funding will disappear if voters approve Proposition 4. The Legislature at some future date could still approve an income tax on a two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate and, with voter approval, could choose to spend the money on anything.

Supporters of Proposition 4 would like you to believe that Texas has an income tax “crisis.” We don’t. With or without Proposition 4, the Legislature isn’t likely to approve an income tax for years. But sooner or later, lawmakers may have to consider an income tax to meet growing spending needs, and Proposition 4 will make their jobs more difficult, with schools forced to scramble for funding.

Proposition 4 could even provoke a more-immediate crisis. Because the amendment doesn’t define individuals as living persons, it could encourage business groups to go to court and seek rulings exempting corporations from having to pay billions in state franchise taxes. If they are successful, billions of dollars would have to be cut from education and other programs.

The only viable recourse for educators is to continue voting for education first. That will include voting for more education friendly legislative candidates in 2020…and voting AGAINST Proposition 4 this fall.

Early voting has started and will run through Nov. 1.

Voters, not impeachment, will decide the country’s future

It was a coincidence that Speaker Nancy Pelosi chose National Voter Registration Day to announce her decision to begin a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump, but those of us who want another president better heed a strong message in the timing.

Impeachment is a justifiable response to this president. But whether he is unseated will depend on next year’s election, not on an impeachment inquiry that may never come to a vote in the House, much less result in a conviction in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, aided and abetted by the likes of Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, will continue to be Trump’s chief enabler and protector.

The stakes for the 2020 presidential race already were sky-high because the outrages have been many under the Trump administration:

# A continuing assault on public education and other services critical to millions of Americans and the country’s future.

# A continuing assault on basic decency, including racist rhetoric from the White House, the separation of thousands of migrant children from their parents at the southern border and cramming migrant kids into detention facilities little better than cages.

# An incompetent commander-in-chief who ignores constitutional restraints, repeatedly lies to the American people and seemingly takes delight in widening racial, cultural and ideological divisions to a level not seen in this country since perhaps the Civil War.

Only a few hours after Pelosi’s announcement, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, one of Trump’s most-outspoken allies in Texas, issued a statement predicting that “this high-risk strategy by the Democrats will only galvanize and energize the president’s supporters in Texas and across the country.”

Although I rarely agree with Patrick’s political priorities or pronouncements, he is right about this one.

About one-third of the voters in this country, maybe more, believe everything Trump says or don’t care. In their view, what’s wrong with the president of the United States pressuring the president of a foreign country to help him undermine a political opponent? Regardless of the outrage, they will follow Trump over the cliff — and take the rest of the country with them. The impeachment announcement already has set their social networks afire, and their trolls are working overtime.

Next year’s elections for president, the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House and the Texas Legislature already were going to be critical for educators, students, consumers and anyone else who values our public school system, our network of life-saving and life-enhancing public services, our national defense and our very system of government.

The impeachment announcement means we will have to step up our hard work to force the changes we need at the ballot box.

There is nothing “healthy” about competition from charter chains

It is a myth without a grain of truth, but it won’t go away. The myth is this: Competition between charters and traditional, neighborhood public schools is “healthy” for students and their families.

Bunk. The only things getting healthier are the bank accounts of the investors behind the corporate-style charter chains that are increasing their presence in Texas and the private management companies that operate the schools.

Charter advocates are at the forefront of the school privatization effort in Texas, and one of their loudest mouthpieces is the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which is intent on starving public schools – and many other public services – and replacing them with profit centers for investors eager to cash in on our tax dollars.

“Because charter schools are another school option for many students, they help provide a crucial impact on education in Texas – competition. Competition drives growth, innovation and it improves results,” a legislative fellow with the Texas Public Policy Foundation claimed in a recent oped.

In truth, the only competition that corporate charters drive is a competition – a sort of feeding frenzy from the public trough – to create more charters. And it doesn’t improve results for most Texas school children.

Repeated studies have shown that charters, on average, are no better than traditional public schools, and some are much worse. Consider the first-year results of Texas’ experiment with SB1882, the 2017 law enacted to improve struggling campuses by turning them over to charters and nonprofits. Twelve schools were in the first group placed in SB1882 partnerships, and seven received F ratings from the Texas Education Agency this year, according to a recent story in The Texas Tribune. Four schools received worse ratings than they did in 2017-18, before the interventions.

Charters received more than $2.2 billion in state revenue in 2017 alone, and much of that money went to charters operated by for-profit management organizations that don’t have to answer to parents or other voters, don’t have to hire certified teachers, don’t have minimum salary requirements, don’t have class size limits, don’t have to accept every child who applies and don’t have to provide bus service.

Competition? The competition is among charter chains for a bigger and bigger slice of the tax pie – at the expense of neighborhood public schools. Every time a student leaves a neighborhood public school for a charter, he or she takes a pile of tax revenue to the charter. And the school districts they leave remain stuck with fixed expenses – utilities, building maintenance, transportation costs – that don’t go down as the student enrollment decreases.

Neighborhood schools are being closed, and competition from aggressive charter operators is a major reason. That is not healthy for students or taxpayers. And neither is the racial segregation of schools that the charter movement is exacerbating.

More than 60 years since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education, it is no secret that many schools in Texas and the United States remain segregated by race, class and economic factors. But a new study, published a few weeks ago in the Journal of Education Sciences, says national data show that “nowhere is the problem more acute than in the nation’s charter schools.”

The authors – Julian Vasquez Heilig of the University of Kentucky (formerly of UT-Austin), T. Jameson Brewer of the University of North Georgia and Yohuru Williams of the University of St. Thomas – report that the problem “is not simply explained away by locality or demography.”

Some charter supporters, they note, try to downplay the issue by emphasizing the need to provide greater choice to low-income and minority students as a means of achieving equity in educational outcomes regardless of the racial composition of a school. But the authors cite research that charters, like traditional public schools that serve predominantly poor students of color “do so with reduced resources, less academic vigor, in the form of limited access to advanced coursework and largely untrained or inexperienced teachers.”

“Nationally, we find that higher percentages of charter students of every race attend intensely segregated schools,” they report.

This condition isn’t healthy for education, children…or the future of democracy.

A 13-year-old speaks truth to fear

The letter below, published in the Austin American-Statesman and written by a 13-year-old classmate of my daughter, Caroline, pretty well sums up the waste and futility of building President Trump’s wall along the southern border.

The writer, Joaquin Bartelli, represents part of a future that no amount of wall-building is going to stop or even slow down. Trump tweets bigotry and fear, while Joaquin tells it like it is.

Our country has a lot going for it. But it will be a better place in which to live for everybody when Trump is removed from the White House and young people like Joaquin are old enough to vote. Joaquin is a U.S. citizen, the son of U.S. citizens, and like millions of other citizens he is proud of his Mexican heritage. Here is his letter:

Border wall a bad idea for these three reasons

I am 13 years old and I am Mexican. I think that the border wall is a bad idea because it’d be expensive, ineffective and its message is so negative. The wall’s cost would be in the billions, which is too much when it could be going to better causes, like feeding starving children or helping the homeless.

On top of that it will be ineffective at keeping people out. People would still be able to climb over it, dig tunnels or otherwise find a way past it.

Most importantly, the wall sends the hurtful message that “Mexicans are not welcome here.” I can’t help but take it personally. The president may want to keep Mexicans from coming over the border, but he did not realize that message is being sent to Mexicans already here. Does he really want me to leave?

Joaquin Bartelli, Austin