Month: <span>August 2012</span>

Vouchers don’t promote civil rights


To no one’s surprise, state Sen. Dan Patrick is getting carried away with his own rhetoric over the private school voucher issue, which will be the top priority for Patrick and others seeking to weaken the public schools during next year’s legislative session.

“It is the civil rights issue of our time,” he told the Texas delegation to the Republican National Convention, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Civil rights? This is coming from Dan Patrick, a champion of the anti-civil rights Voter ID bill, which a federal court struck down yesterday because it would weaken the voting rights of minority and other low-income Texans.

No, thank you, Texas doesn’t need any more “help” with civil rights from Dan Patrick.

Every child in Texas has a right to an adequate and equitable public education, which Patrick and other supports of private school vouchers would erode by siphoning away tax dollars for a handful of students and private school operators. Vouchers, like voter ID, are an “anti-civil rights issue.”

Patrick also declared, “Don’t let the (teacher) unions tell you we’re going to rob it (voucher money) away from public education.”

But that is exactly what the Texas State Teachers Association will continue to tell everyone, because that is exactly what voucher advocates intend to do.

Patrick and other voucher supporters, including Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, already have shown they are eager to strip needed resources from the public schools. They slashed $5.4 billion from public education last year, over the strong objections of parents and educators. Parents and educators understand what is needed in our schools, and they, along with teacher groups, actually do value public education and work to improve the lives of public school students every day.

Patrick claims that vouchers would help students with disabilities and autism. But if he were so concerned about their welfare, why did he vote last year to cut their public school budgets and billions of dollars more from health care programs, while leaving billions of dollars unspent in the Rainy Day Fund?

No amount of profiteering schemes will change this fact. The overwhelming majority of Texas’ 5 million school children will continue to be educated in traditional public schools. Most will not have a realistic alternative or a choice, even under a voucher program. Instead, a voucher program would undermine their basic educational rights while providing a taxpayer subsidy to private school owners.

In his speech to GOP delegates, Patrick also denounced “non-needy” Texans who, he said, are benefiting from social welfare programs.

“Get off your butt!…Don’t expect us (taxpayers) to pick up the tab for your lifestyle,” he said.

He doesn’t mind, of course, if taxpayers pick up the tab for non-needy private school operators. That is hypocrisy, folks. It is not what a sound public education system and civil rights are all about.

Invest more in all children, not just a handful

The importance of making greater public investments in our children – all our children, not just a handful who would win a voucher lottery – has been highlighted again in a new report, which is discussed in a New York Times column linked below. Unfortunately, the people who really need to read it, including many of our alleged state “leaders,” probably won’t bother.

The report by the Center for American Progress discusses the heavy investments that China and India, our giant global economic competitors, are making to increase educational opportunities from preschool to college. Clearly, our competitors are investing to prepare their children for the jobs they will be taking from many young Americans in the very near future.

The report notes how unfavorably the United States compares in terms of its overall commitment to children, including investments in early childhood education, poverty reduction and health care. More than 22 percent of American children lived in poverty in 2010, and more than one-fourth have chronic health problems that harm their ability to learn.

How are Texas’ “leaders” preparing Texas children for a very competitive future? Let’s see, first they slashed $5.4 billion from public school budgets, a short-sighted decision that reduced pre-kindergarten opportunities, reduced dropout prevention programs, reduced elective choices and increased the sizes of most other classes. The leadership also cut billions of dollars from health care programs, ensuring that thousands of children won’t stay healthy enough to attend school regularly.

In short, the governor and the legislative majority took a huge ax to the critical resources that Texas students and teachers need to succeed. And, they are not done yet.

Now, instead of taking advantage of a rapidly improving economy and increased tax collections to restore the funding cuts, they are preparing to siphon off even more public tax dollars to enrich private school owners. Their proposed voucher plan – which they have misnamed a “choice” program – wouldn’t give the vast majority of Texas students and their parents any choice at all. It would benefit only a handful of students while cutting even more tax dollars from the public schools that most children will still attend – and spend that money instead to support private schools.

Michael Williams, Gov. Perry’s new appointee as state education commissioner, is a long-time advocate of vouchers. And, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst endorsed the idea this week, as he announced plans to seek reelection to another term in 2014.

Dewhurst said he wanted to “continue serving to help move this state forward.” Huh? If he really wants to move this state forward, he better do an about face.


Your money doesn’t belong to school profiteers

Comptroller Susan Combs says it is important that she remind Texas taxpayers how their money is being spent. So she has spent some more of it to issue a new report, “Your Money and the Taxing Facts,” which you can find on her office’s website. It is interesting that the report is getting attention at the same time that some legislators are getting ready to launch a campaign to grab a big chunk of your money and give it to private school profiteers.

Combs didn’t intend her report to serve as a warning against private school vouchers, which the Senate Education Committee, at the urging of Sen. Dan Patrick, will discuss in a public hearing tomorrow. For all I know, she may support vouchers, since she has supported other bad ideas for public schools and school children, including larger class sizes and a $25-million-a-year state subsidy for wealthy investors in a high-dollar auto race in Austin. She approved the subsidy as the governor and the legislative majority were whacking $5.4 billion from public education.

Combs’ primary interest in issuing the report is to tell taxpayers who she is. She is dreaming of a lieutenant governor’s race a couple of years from now, and since she isn’t a household name, not even among Republican voters, she is using every opportunity to milk exposure from her taxpayer-funded office through official reports, town hall meetings, etc.

Her report, nevertheless, serves as a stark reminder of how state government has been shortchanging a host of important public services, including the public schools, for a long time. She quantifies the proof, more than she may have intended, by reporting that local property taxes across Texas increased 188 percent between 1992 and 2010, significantly outpacing population growth and inflation. Local taxes have risen dramatically because the state has required more of school districts and other local governments while not keeping pace with state aid.

Some $40.28 billion in property taxes was collected by all local governments in Texas in 2010, according to the report. More than half that amount, $21.56 billion, was collected by school districts. These figures were calculated before last year’s huge budget cuts put even more pressure on local property owners.

But, now, along comes Sen. Patrick and others ready to dust off an old, bad idea – private school vouchers. The timing couldn’t be worse. It makes absolutely no sense to divert tax dollars into the pockets of private school owners at any time, but especially while public schools are still wrestling with last year’s cuts. Some 25,000 public school employees, including almost 11,000 teachers, lost jobs last year, and thousands of children were forced into overcrowded classrooms. This year, some districts are closing neighborhood schools.

Voucher proponents call their proposal a “choice” program, but it simply is not.

“These so-called ‘choice’ programs offer no real choice for the overwhelmingly majority of students,” TSTA President Rita Haecker said in a statement released to the media today. “Voucher plans benefit only a few students while enriching profiteers at the expense of public schools that have been shortchanged by the same politicians who want to divert tax dollars to private schools.”

Haecker added: “All these voucher schemes to the contrary, the vast majority of Texas children will continue to be educated in traditional public schools, and that is where our tax dollars need to be invested.”

Educators and other supporters of public schools are in for a tough fight. So buckle up!

Moving the status quo farther behind

The Romney-Ryan campaign obviously is more than a little sensitive about being portrayed as anti-public education. But the portrayal fits. The deep education budget cuts proposed by Paul Ryan in Congress – and apparently endorsed by Romney – contrast sharply with President Obama’s record. The president signed a stimulus law in 2009 that pumped about $100 billion in education funds into the states. And, in 2010 he won another $10 billion to help save educators’ jobs.

The Romney-Ryan budget proposal, as I noted in a previous posting, would slash an estimated $723 million from critical public education programs in Texas alone. But the Romney campaign is trying to downplay the significance of President Obama’s education record.

“The vast majority of that (Obama) funding has gone into maintaining the status quo,” Martin West, an education adviser to Romney, said in an article in Education Week.

Professor West, however, misses the point, at least as far as Texas is concerned. The custodians of the status quo in Texas are Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative majority, and they have been consistently lowering it during much of Perry’s administration. The last time Perry and his allies passed a halfway decent public education budget in Texas was in 2009, and that was because they balanced it with about $5 billion of President Obama’s stimulus funds. Perry et al, who delight in bashing President Obama and his stimulus dollars, readily accepted the federal money to bail themselves out of a deep hole that Perry had dug with his 2006 property tax cuts. President Obama’s bailout saved Perry from having to cut the education budget or raise taxes on the eve of his 2010 reelection campaign.

Alas, there wasn’t a federal bailout last year, but the budget hole was still there. And, Perry had been safely reelected. So the governor drove the status quo down even more by slashing $5.4 billion from public school budgets. Now, if Perry, Romney and Ryan have their way, the cuts will be even deeper next year.

The Republican ticket’s budget cuts would go beyond K-12. They also would slash the Pell Grant program for low-income college students. And, that would be shoving the status quo even farther behind.