Month: <span>March 2013</span>

Putting school vouchers in backpacks


Unbelievable as it may seem, some readers of this blog occasionally take exception to my reasoned rhetoric – and to my view that we should give our public schools the resources they need to do their job instead of siphoning away our tax dollars for unproven school privatization schemes.

Many of these people call themselves education “reformers,” when, in fact, they are not trying to reform – or improve — public schools but, instead, are trying to capitalize on them. Folks, profit-making for a select few is not the purpose of our public education system.

A spokesman for Texas Families First (TFF), one of these education privatization groups, has taken exception to my previous blog posting, in which I outlined the many problems with HB300 by Rep. Jason Isaac of Dripping Springs. I also noted the absurdity of Isaac claiming to be a champion of education after voting to slash $5.4 billion from public school budgets two years ago and now trying to continue the demolition.

Isaac filed HB300, the so-called “Independent School District Bill,” on behalf of TFF, which wants to give parents more control over school choices for their children, even to the point of allowing school districts to ignore important, statewide education standards – including class size limits and teacher qualifications — and allowing parents to turn their schools – and tax dollars — over to for-profit, outside operators.

I doubt there was anything TFF liked about the previous blog posting, but the group’s spokesman objected specifically to my writing that HB300 includes a voucher of “last resort” provision. He said the bill doesn’t include such a provision and asked for a correction.

I have subsequently reviewed the 62-page bill and haven’t found any specific reference to the word, “voucher.”

But the bill would allow for “backpack funding.” That means state funds for school districts participating in the program would go with the students.  It parents were to turn over the management of their local school to a for-profit operator – and nothing I could find in the bill would prohibit that – the “backpack” money would amount to a taxpayer-paid voucher. And, that would be a transfer of public money to private hands.

Call it what you wish. It is not education reform. It is school privatization.


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.

Preachy on education – and wrong


Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick is preachy, as TSTA President Rita Haecker pointed out in an Associated Press story this morning. He also is demagogic, as one of his Senate colleagues suggested in the same story. And, he is an expert at grandstanding.

But when it comes to improving educational opportunities for low-income children, he is wrong, flat wrong.

“You do become a little bit of an education evangelist because you know this works and you know we must do all we can to make sure every student has an opportunity,” Patrick is quoted in the same story, promoting his proposals to expand charter schools and create tax credits for private school vouchers.

Every student? What Patrick is proposing would be limited to a small number of children, while taking tax dollars from the vast majority of students. Moreover, private school vouchers and charters DON’T WORK any better than traditional public schools in boosting educational opportunities for that vast majority. Research has borne that out. And, that includes Florida, which former Gov. Jeb Bush was still touting as something of an education miracle in an invited appearance last week before Patrick’s committee.

State-commissioned studies have found no evidence that low-income students who receive vouchers to attend private schools do any better at reading or math than kids in Florida’s public schools. Bush also expanded charter schools in Florida while he was governor. But the state’s high school graduation rate remains mediocre, and large numbers of graduates still need remedial help in math and reading.

Tax resources have been drained from traditional public schools in Florida, and now Patrick wants to continue doing the same thing to Texas schools. Instead, he should be leading an effort – which he is not – to restore the $5.4 billion he voted to cut from public schools two years ago.

Those cuts – an average $1,062 per student over the past two years – have done a lot of damage to educational opportunities for the low-income children for whom Patrick claims to advocate. They have been forced to study in overcrowded classrooms. They have lost teachers, teaching assistants and pre-kindergarten and other dropout prevention programs. Now, he wants to take even more of their public support away to enrich education profiteers.

Education evangelist? Texas school kids need a statesman who really knows what works for them.