Month: <span>September 2012</span>

Rep. Garza tries to wriggle out of anti-education vote

Add State Rep. John Garza of San Antonio to the list of Republican legislators now trying to wriggle their way around their votes last year to slash public school funding by $5.4 billion. Garza is locked in a reelection race in House District 117 against challenger Philip Cortez, a former San Antonio city councilman who is making an issue of the budget cuts and the subsequent damage inflicted on classrooms.

Garza tried to defend his vote for the cuts in a TV interview this week. “We can’t spend what we don’t have,” he told KSAT.

What Garza didn’t admit, however, is that he and his colleagues had access to more than enough taxpayer dollars to avoid the cuts but chose to jeopardize the education of Texas children instead. The legislative majority left several billion dollars unspent in the Rainy Day Fund, a figure that will grow to at least $8.1 billion – and probably more — by the end of this budget period.

Garza voted to keep that money in the bank while approving an education budget that didn’t even keep pace with enrollment growth.

Garza’s budget vote is directly responsible for the loss, so far, of 25,000 school jobs, including almost 11,000 teachers, the overcrowding of thousands of classrooms and, in some districts, the closure of neighborhood schools. Garza also voted for SB8, a bill weakening teacher employment rights and making it easier for school districts to fire experienced teachers.

Garza claims on his campaign website that he wants to “improve education and access to educational opportunities.” He had that opportunity last session, but he failed…miserably.

That is why the Texas State Teachers Association is supporting Philip Cortez in District 117. Cortez agrees with TSTA that money from the Rainy Day Fund must be spent to begin repairing the damage from the budget cuts imposed by Garza and his allies.

“We are not going to short change our children,” Cortez said.

That is a major difference in viewpoint between Cortez and an incumbent who already has voted to short change students and educators.



Education “reformers” love a bad idea

Self-styled education “reformers” don’t have all the answers, but you can be sure they will continue promoting bad ideas. And, one bad idea in particular that just won’t go away is tying teacher evaluations to student test scores.

Research repeatedly has shown that making test scores count heavily toward teacher evaluations is both inaccurate and unfair. But it has been a major sticking point in the Chicago teachers’ strike, and it continues to be a major issue in Texas.

In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel wanted student test scores to count heavily in determining whether teachers get bonuses or lose their jobs, when, in truth, classroom instruction is only one factor in student performance. Poverty, parental involvement and a host of other factors outside the teacher’s control also affect classroom performance, and in a city as large as Chicago those factors are markedly different among neighborhoods and schools, as they also are in Texas.

And, don’t forget, education is a cumulative experience. By the time a student starts taking standardized tests, several teachers have contributed to his or her classroom development, yet only the current teacher would be judged by a test score.

In The Dallas Morning News blog linked below, writer Bill McKenzie expresses admiration for Emanuel’s effort and praises state Sen. Florence Shapiro for making a similar effort during last year’s legislative session in Texas. Shapiro’s SB4, which would have required at least 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation to be linked to classroom scores, didn’t pass.

Shapiro, the longtime Senate Education chairwoman, is retiring this year without leaving much of a legacy for school children, except for the new, tougher STAAR testing program, which has done little so far except to anger parents, who rightfully resent it as an unnecessary intrusion into real classroom learning time. Shapiro and others in the legislative majority compounded the misdeed by slashing $5.4 billion from the public education budget even as they required more of students and teachers.

There is no evidence that using test scores is an effective way to evaluate teachers. But there is evidence that smaller class sizes improve student performance. The budget cuts enacted by Shapiro and other would-be education “reformers” in the Legislature resulted in thousands of overcrowded classrooms in Texas, including more than 8,000 in the elementary grades alone last year.

It is time for the “reformers” to get their priorities in order by putting first things first. Restore the school budget cuts, pass an adequate and equitable public education budget for the next fiscal cycle and then consult with educators – the real education experts – to design an accountability system that is fair and that actually works.


Legislator rewriting anti-education record

Now that it is time to face the voters, State Rep. Stefani Carter of Dallas is stumbling all over herself trying to hide her anti-public education voting record during last year’s legislative sessions. On her campaign website, she portrays herself as a champion of the public schools by claiming votes against bad old bills, but voters of Texas House District 102 beware!

You won’t find this information on her website, but Rep. Carter voted for the worst, anti-school bill of the year. That was HB1, the budget, passed in May 2011 during the regular session, which slashed $5.4 billion from public education and, with it, 25,000 school jobs — so far. That bill failed to pay for school enrollment growth, cut funding for pre-kindergarten and other dropout prevention programs, resulted in thousands of overcrowded classrooms and led to the closure of neighborhood schools, including several in Dallas.

Seeking political cover, Carter now brags about voting during the special session in June 2011 against HB1, which, she says, was a “budget bill enacting cuts to public education.” Actually, the bill she voted against during the special session was SB1, but by then the damage had been done because Carter already had voted FOR HB1 a few weeks earlier.

SB1 merely distributed among school districts the $5.4 billion in cuts that Carter already had endorsed. She could have voted against SB1 a dozen times without undoing any of the damage she had already helped inflict. This is kind of like freeing all the horses from the barn, then closing the door and yelling for help. Yes, that’s a cliché, but Carter’s effort to redeem herself is misleading and weak.

Carter, on her website, also claims to have voted against HB400, a bill that would have raised class sizes in kindergarten through fourth grade. Actually, that bill died without ever coming to a final vote in the House. But classes swelled anyway, thanks to the budget cuts. Carter and her legislative allies merely passed the dirty work to the state education commissioner, who granted a record number of waivers allowing more than 8,400 elementary classes to be larger than the 22-student limit, which has been state law since 1984.

During the special session, Carter voted against SB8, a bill weakening teacher employment rights. Teachers appreciate that vote, but it did not undo her vote for the budget cuts that have cost thousands of educators their jobs.

“Concerned about public education?” Carter asks on her website.

The Texas State Teachers Association certainly is, and that is why we are supporting her Democratic opponent, Rich Hancock, in District 102.

A tie between voting rights and education

At first glance, you may not think the article, linked below, about the Voting Rights Act has much to do with public education, but there is a strong connection. Hang on for a few paragraphs, and I will explain.

The article suggests that the Republican majority in the Texas Legislature, by overreaching on the new voter ID law and the redrawing of congressional and legislative districts, has all but guaranteed that the Voting Rights Act will remain the law of the land for the foreseeable future.

The Voting Rights Act, in case you need reminding, is a federal law, initially enacted under President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 and extended to Texas 10 years later, which applies to eight states with a history of racial discrimination in voting or voting procedures. Those states, including Texas, have to get any new laws affecting elections pre-cleared, or approved, by either the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington before the laws can go into effect.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and other state Republican leaders have been arguing the civil rights-era law is outdated and no longer necessary because the bad old days of poll taxes and other overt efforts to suppress minority voting are long gone.

But both the Justice Department and a federal court in Washington blocked the voter ID law because they determined that the requirement to have a government-issued photo ID for voting likely would discriminate against minority voters, who are more likely than Anglos to lack the proper documents. A separate federal court struck down new redistricting plans because, judges determined, the legislative majority ignored Hispanic population growth in favor of carving out new political districts favoring Anglos – and Republicans.

Final decisions in both cases ultimately will be made by the U.S. Supreme Court, but some legal experts are now saying that Texas’ political leadership, although inadvertently, has made a strong case for why the Voting Rights Act is still necessary.

Now, here are the implications for public education. The same legislative majority that approved the voter ID law and the redistricting plans also slashed $5.4 billion from the public schools last year. The majority of public school students in Texas are minority children, mainly Hispanics, and their number will continue to increase.

The same legislators who voted to put these children’s educations at risk also, according to the Justice Department and federal  judges, voted to weaken the political impact that many of their parents – and, in a few years, the children themselves — can have on critical educational policy issues.