Month: October 2012

Good classrooms require more than political jargon

 

Another education budget-cutter, State Rep. Sarah Davis of House District 134 in Houston, is taking voters for a ride by touting “Excellence in Education” as a key issue on her campaign website. Since she is running for reelection against a very good opponent, she is scrambling for votes. And, promoting “excellence” sounds a whole lot better than announcing she voted last year to slash $5.4 billion from public school budgets, now doesn’t it?

No, she isn’t advertising that vote, but she certainly did cast it. And, according to Texas Education Agency estimates, the cuts she approved included more than $130 million from Houston ISD and Spring Branch ISD in her House district alone. Ouch! That’s a pretty big hit against the students and educators in District 134. It also is a big hit against that “Excellence in Education” goal that Davis purports to support. And, she voted to cut funding while leaving about $6 billion of taxpayers’ money unspent, doing no one any good, in the Rainy Day Fund.

Although her campaign jargon is trite and largely meaningless, the results of her budget cuts are concrete and severe – 25,000 lost school jobs, including almost 11,000 teaching positions; thousands of children in overcrowded classrooms; outdated instructional materials; and fewer disadvantaged children (future dropout risks) in pre-kindergarten programs.

The lost teacher jobs included about 1,000 in HISD and Spring Branch alone, according to the TEA.

Davis says she is committed to science, technology, engineering and math – subjects critical to the economy – and to the “teaching of the arts, ensuring the creative potential of students is developed in fields like music, art and theater.”

I wonder if Davis has any idea how many science, math, art and music teachers lost their jobs because of her budget cuts. It is not the PTA’s job to pay to replace them. It is the Legislature’s. Ann Johnson, Davis’ reelection opponent, understands that.

The Texas State Teachers Association is supporting Johnson in District 134 because Johnson understands that true excellence in education requires more than hollow platitudes from lawmakers.

 

 

 

Another school budget-cutter tries to fool voters

 

“Lie” is such a harsh word. So, let’s use “fabrication” to describe State Rep. Dee Margo’s very wordy attempt to deny the fact that he voted last year to cut $5.4 billion from public education. Those cuts included $76 million, according to Texas Education Agency estimates, from El Paso County school districts in House District 78, where Margo is trying to convince voters to reelect him.

In an effort to claim he is a “friend” of public schools when, indeed, he isn’t, Margo sunk some campaign cash in a multi-page flyer, complete with charts and citations, that purports to explain the education funding problem. In truth, the handout is a piece of self-serving drivel that omits the real problem with school funding and ignores Margo’s role in worsening it.

Although you won’t find any mention of this in Margo’s flyer, Gov. Rick Perry started digging the deep financial hole for school districts in 2006, when he convinced the legislative majority to order deep cuts in local school property taxes without providing for enough state revenue to cover the districts’ losses. The property tax savings soon vanished, and schools have been struggling with funding ever since because the uneven swap created a permanent, $5 billion annual shortfall in the public education budget. But the scheme gave Perry what he wanted – bragging rights to “tax cuts” in a reelection year.

Margo, a loyal soldier in Perry’s anti-education army, blames the funding problem, instead, on the 2009 legislative session, when then-State Rep. Joe Moody represented El Paso in District 78. That year, the Legislature covered the school budget shortfall by spending several billion dollars in one-time-only federal stimulus money. That was the only option, since Perry and the legislative leadership were adamant against raising state taxes. Gov. Perry, who attacks President Obama at every opportunity, was, nevertheless, more than happy to let the President help him balance the state budget.

But once the federal stimulus money was gone, Perry continued his attack on the public schools. Margo, who unseated Moody in 2010, helped Perry dig the schools’ budgetary hole even deeper in 2011 by voting to slash $5.4 billion from school funding. Even without federal help, Margo and the legislative majority had about $6 billion in the Rainy Day Fund, more than enough to avoid the school budget cuts. But Margo and the other Perry allies left that money sitting in the bank, while they watched 25,000 school employees lose their jobs and thousands of children get crammed into overcrowded classrooms. More than 150 teaching positions have been lost in El Paso alone, according to the Texas Education Agency.

Yet, in his fictitious flyer, Margo criticizes Moody for taking an “easy short-term solution” to school funding and claims his own budget-cutting somehow amounted to “putting education funding on solid ground.”  I doubt that even Margo himself believes that, although he hopes El Paso voters do. Every school district in El Paso County, meanwhile, has joined a lawsuit claiming the state’s school finance system is inadequate and inequitable.

The truth is Moody helped avert a disaster for the public schools in 2009, while Margo deliberately voted in 2011 to lay off thousands of teachers and put public education in the worst financial shape it has been in many years. Margo voted for the worst public education budget of his lifetime. It cut per pupil funding by more than $500 and didn’t even pay for enrollment growth.

Margo is guided by an ideology that wants to dismantle the public schools in favor of privatization. Moody, who is trying to win the District 78 seat back, is a strong supporter of public education and is guided by a desire to create a solid learning environment in the public schools for Texas’ next generation.

TSTA’s advice for District 78 voters: Throw Margo’s worthless flyer in the trash or recycling bin and vote for Moody.

 

Don’t let state “leaders” make school cuts permanent

A state representative from San Antonio has issued a warning that educators, parents and others who value the public schools better heed. The so-called state “leaders” intent on leading Texas over the cliff aren’t through yet. And, they are being egged on by a state comptroller whose error-prone revenue forecasts haven’t dissuaded her from traveling about the state, testing the water for – oh, joy – higher office.

As most of you know, Gov. Perry and the legislative majority cut $5.4 billion from public school budgets during the 2011 session. They used a lagging economy as an excuse even though they left several billion dollars unspent in the state’s emergency Rainy Day Fund.

Now, Comptroller Susan Combs is saying she – oops — miscalculated the improving economy when she delivered last year’s revenue estimate to the Legislature. The Rainy Day Fund is growing even larger and should total at least $8.1 billion by the time this budget period ends, while other tax collections are running at least $5 billion ahead of her projections.

So, maybe, you would be expecting the governor, the comptroller and the legislative leadership to call a news conference at the Capitol and announce the good news that they are ready to use that new-found money to do the right thing and restore funding for education and other critical services. Then school districts could start rehiring laid-off teachers and reducing overcrowded class sizes. But you would be wrong. This crowd just doesn’t want to do the right thing.

Instead, they claim they need to continue clamping down on spending because they have a big hole to patch in the Medicaid budget, they need to pay for some accounting tricks and the economy could take a dive again. And, they say we need to save the Rainy Day Fund for another hurricane or, perhaps, a return of the Cold War, even though the Legislature and Texas voters approved the fund in the 1980s for exactly the type of financial emergency that public schools are facing now.

The truth of the matter is the economy and tax collections have improved to the point that there will be enough money during next year’s legislative session to restore funding to schools, close the Medicaid hole and take care of other critical services. So, why are state “leaders” dragging their feet and calling for more belt-tightening?

“These guys want to make this (cuts) permanent,” State Rep. Michael Villarreal, a Democrat from San Antonio who voted against the cuts, warned at a news conference yesterday. And, unfortunately, he is correct.

Villarreal was joined by educator groups, including TSTA, and others concerned about the concerted effort to dismantle the public school system in favor of privatization. Some of the same people who want to keep slashing away at the public schools will try, nevertheless, to siphon tax dollars for private school vouchers. Despite what they will claim, the purpose of that effort will not be to improve education or improve opportunities for students, but to enrich private school owners.

Please vote on Election Day. Early voting will start Oct. 22. But, first, do some homework and watch out who you vote for. Every legislative candidate will claim to be a “friend of education.” But many of those voted for the cuts last year, and will vote to cut education spending again – until enough of them are replaced by the voters.

Another pre-election “conversion” for education

 

A story this morning in the Corpus Christi Caller had this ominous-sounding lead:  “Republican State Rep. Connie Scott wants to finish what she started in 2010.” It is ominous because if Scott gets to finish what she started, our public schools, educators and students will be in for more trouble.

Scott unseated former State Rep. Abel Herrero, an effective advocate for public education, two years ago. Then she joined the governor and the short-sighted legislative majority in slashing $5.4 billion from public school budgets, including, according to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), an estimated $29 million from the Nueces County school districts that she purported to represent.

Statewide, 25,000 school employees – including almost 11,000 teachers – lost jobs, and thousands of students were crammed into overcrowded classrooms. Teacher losses in Nueces County were about 200, according to TEA. Some Texas districts even started charging for bus rides, and others were forced to close neighborhood schools.

Now, in a pre-election overture, Scott is claiming that she is “committed to improving public education.”

But, folks, someone who is truly committed to improving public education doesn’t vote, as Scott did, to slash $5.4 billion from the public schools while leaving several billion dollars of taxpayer money sitting, unspent, in the Rainy Day Fund. The main thing Scott is committed to is catering to the tea party-types who would privatize public education for the wealthy and put everyone else’s children into nineteenth century, one-room schoolhouses.

Abel Herrero is running again for his old House seat in District 34. TSTA is supporting him against Scott because Herrero actually is committed to improving public education. He, unlike Scott, has the record to prove it.