Day: <span>March 8, 2013</span>

Trying to ram public education into reverse


“Unfunded mandate” is a trite expression that sometimes is used by local school officials to complain about having to do something that would actually be in the best interests of their students and teachers, such as limited class sizes for K-4 and due process rights for employees. The complaint is that the Legislature – which can be a champion at buck-passing — ordered them to do something without paying for it.

Some mandates, of course, do not have a positive educational effect. Putting the standardized testing regime on steroids with the STAAR program has proved to be a very bad idea, and legislative leaders already are taking steps to curtail it. But now along comes State Rep. Jason Isaac of Dripping Springs, who wants to set public education back a half century or more by scrapping just about every state education requirement, the good as well as the bad.

You could say that Isaac is trying to finish what he helped to start two years ago when he voted for the $5.4 billion in school funding cuts. During his 2012 reelection campaign, he denied his anti-education vote, although his local school officials – and anyone else with a passing knowledge of arithmetic — knew better. But he’s back in Austin, nevertheless. So, watch out!

Isaac has filed HB300, which would allow school districts to ignore almost all state regulations and set their own policies for curriculum, class size, student testing, teacher compensation, hiring and firing and the academic calendar. Districts also could set their own accountability standards, and, if they fail to meet them, parents could turn their schools over to private, for-profit operators. The bill also includes a voucher “of last resort.”

In other words, the bill would create the potential for a mess. Some districts could enact high educational standards, while others, particularly in property poor areas, would drastically cut back on standards, raise class sizes, lower teacher pay and eliminate fairness from employment standards. Some state regulations – most notably the STAAR test – need to be changed, but most are there to guarantee sound educational practices for all Texas students and fairness in employment and pay for teachers.

According to a story, linked below, in the Texas Tribune, Isaac’s bill is backed by Texas Families First, a pro-voucher and privatization group that would put the vast majority of Texas students last.

“Educators consistently tell me that unfunded mandates are one of the biggest hindrances to delivering effective education to our children,” Isaacs said.

Except for STAAR, most of the mandates are fine. A far better solution is for Isaacs and his education-cutting colleagues in the Legislature to pay for them. And, they can begin by restoring the $5.4 billion – some $1,062 per child – they cut from schools two years ago, instead of toying around with unproven privatization experiments that would undermine public education.