Month: <span>April 2013</span>

What good is a water fund without good schools?


House Bill 11 deserves a watery grave. Yes, that is a bad pun for the water bill that was shot down in the Texas House last night on a procedural point. And, yes, Texas needs to start spending more money developing future water resources, which HB11 would have done. But Texas also needs to start spending more money on its public schools, and HB11 would have failed to do that.

HB11 would have taken $2 billion from the $12 billion Rainy Day Fund to establish a revolving account for future water-supply projects. But, ignoring the priorities of most Texas voters, sponsors refused to include any additional funding to complete the restoration of the $5.4 billion cut from public school budgets two years ago.

What good would it be to spend money on water projects if you don’t have enough well-educated architects, engineers and managers to design, build and operate them?

Despite what Gov. Rick Perry, the Texas Association of Business and other government privateers think, the answer to a quality educational system doesn’t start with standardized tests for third-graders. It starts with adequately funded schools, and proposed budgets in the House and the Senate still fall short of repairing all the damage from the education cuts inflicted in 2011.

The Senate has approved SJR1, a constitutional amendment that would let voters decide if they want to spend $4.9 billion of the Rainy Day Fund for roads and water projects and $800 million for public education. But that amendment doesn’t seem likely to win House approval, and – with the regular session ending in four weeks – there is talk of a summer special session because Gov. Perry wants money for water.

If only he had the slightest bit of enthusiasm for funding schools as well, this problem could be more quickly resolved.

Without using the Rainy Day Fund, the House has approved a budget that would restore $2.5 billion of the lost $5.4 billion and has approved a separate bill that would add another $500 million. Without SJR1, the Senate’s budget would restore only $1.5 billion of the education funds, although Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams has pledged to add another $1.4 billion made possible because of increasing property wealth.

The final version of the new state budget – and how much money it includes for public education – will be negotiated by a House-Senate conference committee while legislators continue to disagree over the Rainy Day Fund.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner of Houston, a strong advocate for dipping into the Rainy Day Fund for schools as well as for water, raised the point of order that torpedoed HB11 last night. And, according to a bipartisan poll commissioned by TSTA earlier this session, most Texas voters agree with him.

Some 66 percent of voters said lawmakers should use the Rainy Day Fund to restore public school funding. That includes 39 percent who chose education funding over water (5 percent) or roads (4 percent) plus 27 percent who believe Rainy Day money should be spent on all three needs.

As the poll shows, most Texas voters have their priorities straight. But they continue to be ignored by many of their alleged “leaders” in Austin.



A champion for school children dies; fight continues


Demetrio Rodriguez, a sheet metal worker from San Antonio who became one of the earliest champions in the decades-long fight for equity in public school funding, has died at 87, the San Antonio Express-News reports.

Rodriguez was the lead plaintiff in Rodriguez et al vs. San Antonio ISD, a federal lawsuit filed over the equity issue more than 40 years ago by a group of parents from Edgewood ISD, one of the poorest districts in the state. The plaintiffs won a strong ruling from a federal court in 1971, but the decision was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973. The high court agreed that Texas’ method of funding its public schools was lousy but said the problem wasn’t a federal issue.

Rodriguez never gave up, and within a few years, the school funding issue was being fought in state courts, where it continues to be fought today. Rodriguez also was an original plaintiff in the better-known lawsuit, Edgewood vs. Kirby, which was filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in state district court in the mid-1980s.

Ruling for Rodriguez and the other plaintiffs in 1989, the Texas Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling that found huge inequities in funding between property poor and wealthy school districts and ordered the Legislature to change the system.

The Legislature enacted the so-called “Robin Hood” law that still requires wealthier districts to share property tax revenue with poor districts. But after a series of subsequent lawsuits, large inequities remain. In the most recent suit, filed after the Legislature slashed $5.4 billion from the public education budget, state District Judge John Dietz of Austin ruled earlier this year that the funding system also is woefully inadequate.

The state is appealing Dietz’s ruling to the current Texas Supreme Court, some of whose members have decidedly different political and legal viewpoints than the nine Democratic justices who issued the first Edgewood ruling in 1989.

Rodriguez’s daughter, Patricia Rodriguez, a third-grade bilingual teacher in Edgewood ISD, said her father fought the school funding fight for his children and others like them.

“He was my hero,” she told the Express-News.

And, he was a champion for thousands of other Texas school children.



Voucher supporters don’t get it


The members of the State Board of Education who dissented late last week when the board voted, 10-5, for a resolution urging the Legislature to reject private school vouchers, including tax-credit “scholarships,” were among the board’s more conservative members. But another conservative, first-termer Marty Rowley, a Republican from Amarillo, pointed out that there was nothing particularly liberal – or conservative — about wanting to save education tax dollars for public schools. Reserving tax money for public education is simply being fair to the vast majority of school children and is the correct thing to do.

“I am a limited-government conservative, and because of that it concerns me when I see taxpayer dollars going to the private sector,” he said, voting for the resolution.

Perhaps Rowley should sit down and have a chat with Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick, who also professes to be a limited-government conservative but is a driving force behind the school privatization scheme.

Patrick’s Senate Bill 23, which would allow businesses to get tax credits for donating money for private school scholarships, may be debated by the full Senate this week. Whatever Patrick may call it, the bill would create a private school voucher program because the tax credits would take money away from public education for the benefit of private school operators.

A majority of the State Board of Education – five Democrats and five Republicans—now joins a bipartisan majority of the Texas House in going on record against spending public money on private schools. The House voted 103-43 earlier this month to put that prohibition into its version of the new state budget.

But Patrick and some of his Senate colleagues remain undeterred.

And at least one member of the State Board of Education who supports vouchers seems utterly confused.

Geraldine “Tincy” Miller of Dallas said she voted against the resolution because, “I believe in the American right to educate my children in the manner that I want.”

OK. But what does that have to do with vouchers?

If parents want to send their children to private school and can afford to do so, fine. But don’t take tax dollars away from public schools and undermine the education of most Texas school children.


There is real opportunity in public schools, not vouchers


It still takes two to tango in the Legislature. That is, both the House and the Senate have to approve a new law, and the House recorded a very strong 103-43 vote last week against spending tax dollars on private school vouchers. But Dan Patrick, the pro-school privatization champion who doubles as Senate Education Chairman, is still peddling the bad idea. He may not even have enough votes to get a voucher bill through the Senate, but his rhetoric has escalated into double-overdrive.

Double-overdrive? Yes, in Patrick’s case, there is such a thing.

The Senate Education Committee yesterday heard Patrick’s SB23, which would divert tax dollars from public to private schools through “tax credit scholarships,” another name for vouchers, and Sen. Donna Campbell’s SB1575, which would give a small number of families state aid to help pay tuition at private schools. The committee didn’t take any action on either bill, not yet, anyway.

Patrick characterized voucher opponents, such as TSTA, as “barriers of people who are against opportunity and competition.” Again, he is flat wrong.

For one thing, if religious and other private schools want to compete with public schools, they already can do so. But they have no business dipping into the public till to enrich their bottom line, and the Legislature has no business allowing that to happen.

And, what about opportunity? All privatization schemes to the contrary, the vast majority of Texas children will continue to be educated in traditional public schools, and that includes most of the low-income children for whom Patrick purports to offer hope. Public schools, not vouchers, are their opportunity for a successful future.

Instead of giving these children rhetoric, Patrick should start giving them the right kind of votes. Just two years ago, he undermined the most realistic educational opportunity most of these children will ever have when he joined his colleagues in the legislative majority to slash $5.4 billion from public school budgets.

At the very least, he now should put his privatization schemes aside and join the real education experts – teachers and others in the public school community – in demanding that the Legislature restore the full amount of the cuts, not just the partial amounts already approved by the House and the Senate.

If Patrick really wants to improve opportunities for school children, he should start talking about tapping the Rainy Day Fund, not creating vouchers or tax credits. The Rainy Day Fund has enough money to complete the job of making our real opportunity providers – the public schools – whole again.