Month: <span>February 2014</span>

Making road kill of public schools


Just when you may have thought Texas political candidates couldn’t figure out another way to entertain the rest of the country along comes Tink Nathan of Center Point, who is pushing a campaign plank to allow road kill to be served on dinner tables. Or, as one recent news report put it, Nathan wants “road kill at every barbecue.”

In fairness to Nathan, a Republican candidate for a Texas House seat from the Hill County, I think he means freshly deceased deer as opposed to squashed skunk or snake. But regardless of how amusing or off-putting you may find his proposal, the real problem with Nathan’s candidacy is that he would make road kill of public schools.

On his website, Nathan claims he is “pro-education” – few candidates claim to be otherwise – but education is sixth on his list, after pro-gun, pro-family (or anti-gay marriage), pro-border security, pro-tax cuts and pro-limited government. He is running, after all, in the Texas Republican primary. He says he supports the “continued reduction of the state income tax,” an interesting goal since Texas doesn’t have a personal income tax, and the reduction or elimination of fees.

If it is not clear by now that education actually would starve after Nathan gets through feeding all of his more-pressing ideological cravings, let us take a look at that “pro-education” language. It reads, “Supports local control of education, streamlining of administrative costs, directing as much revenue as possible to the classroom and is not supportive of the radical education unions (NEA) agendas.”

Ummm…After Nathan gets through tightening the tap on state revenue, as he proposes, the “as possible” amount of revenue left over for the classroom would be precious little. And, how about that “radical” TSTA/NEA agenda?

If TSTA’s and NEA’s goals of a fair and adequate school finance system, professionally paid teachers, reasonable classroom sizes and up-to-date learning materials are “radical,” so are millions of Texas parents who value public schools a whole lot more than candidates like Tink Nathan do.



Scraping the bottom of the political barrel


Greg Abbott’s decision to pal around with foul-mouthed rocker Ted Nugent raises a bigger issue than the governor’s race. It screams the question: How much lower will political candidates continue to stoop to try to win votes?

Nugent’s public pronouncements are overtly sexist, racist and disrespectful of people with whom he disagrees. He has called Hillary Rodham Clinton a “worthless bitch,” has likened other women to “fat pigs” and even has called the current president of the United States “a subhuman mongrel.” He also has admitted to having “beautiful” sex with underage girls, a crime in Texas and, as far as I know, every other state.

Clearly, Nugent is a member of the political fringe, the kind of individual that, not too many years ago, any self-respecting politician would have gone out of his or her way to avoid. Abbott, instead, chose to campaign with him on the first day of early voting for the Republican primary.

Why? Because Nugent is an outspoken gun rights advocate, a defender of the 2nd Amendment, which Abbott pointed out to reporters yesterday.

Or, as an Abbott spokesman remarked very lamely a couple of days ago, “While he (Nugent) may sometimes say things or use language that Greg Abbott would not endorse or agree with, we appreciate the support of everyone who supports protecting our Constitution.”

Does this spokesman think we all were born yesterday?

The vast majority of Texans – 99 percent-plus – support the Constitution, including the 2nd Amendment guarantee of the right to bear arms. So, if Abbott wants to continue campaigning for gun rights – which is his prerogative — he doesn’t have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find someone to help him out.

The vast majority of Texans support the entire Constitution, including the 13th Amendment, which abolished both slavery and other forms of “involuntary servitude.” It is not so clear what Nugent thinks about this amendment, though, because he also has proposed treating immigrants “like indentured servants.”

Abbott and other political figures who also have played footsie with Nugent need to repudiate rather than encourage his tripe. Instead, Abbott continues to undermine his own credibility as a would-be leader. He finds that approach a lot easier than actually coming up with some positive ideas about how to improve education funding, access to health care, unclog our freeways and address other necessities for moving Texas forward.

Meanwhile, our political process has been lowered another notch.


Yes, folks, class size does matter


It is partly common sense, which was lost on the education budget cutters in the Legislature a few years ago. Now, there is additional academic affirmation of what should be obvious. Class size does matter, and the smaller the better.

Research shows that children learn more and teachers are more effective in smaller classes, concludes a new policy brief by the National Education Policy Center. And, it notes, smaller classes are even more critical for low-income and minority children, who now account for more than half of Texas’ public school enrollment.

“Any increases in class size will likely be most harmful to these populations,” the author, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of Northwestern University, writes.

She also points out, “The per-pupil impact is reasonably stable across class-size reductions of different sizes and from different baseline class sizes.” In other words, always think smaller, not larger.

In case your memory needs refreshing, members of the legislative majority in 2011 – driven more by ideology than common sense or the needs of school children — pooh-poohed previous academic studies generally pointing out the same thing. They slashed $5.4 billion from public school budgets, left several billion dollars of taxpayers’ money in the bank and forced school districts to seek thousands of waivers for overcrowded elementary school classrooms.

The budget-cutters argued that there was nothing “magical” about Texas’ 22-1 student-teacher ratio for K-4, which they forced districts to violate. Magic, though, has nothing to do with it. It’s a matter of keeping class sizes at a small enough level to allow teachers to give students the individual attention they need to succeed. Based on her report, Schanzenbach likely would agree that 15-1 would be better, but she also would point out that 22-1 certainly is better than the levels to which many classrooms swelled after the budget cuts.

Many classes are still too crowded as districts continue to operate under an inadequate and unfair school funding system. And, the ultimate victims are children.

“Class size is an important determinant of student outcomes and one that can be directly influenced by policy,” Schanzenbach writes. “All else being equal, increasing class sizes will harm student outcomes.”

She added: “The evidence suggests that increasing class size will harm not only children’s test scores in the short run but also their long-term human capital formation. Money saved today by increasing class sizes will be offset by more substantial social and educational costs in the future.”

If only members of the legislative majority could grasp the reality that Texas’ future won’t end with the next Republican primary.


School vouchers – a bad idea that refuses to die


Some bad ideas just won’t go away, and stealing tax dollars from public schools to pay for private school vouchers is one of them. Voucher legislation failed – again – in the Texas Legislature last session, although lawmakers did expand opportunities for private charter school operators to dip into the state treasury.

Fortunately, the Texas Legislature isn’t in session this year, but many other legislatures around the country are, and voucher proponents are knocking on the doors in several of them, according to a roundup published in Education Week.

Bills to either create or expand state voucher programs have been filed in Alaska, Indiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wisconsin. And, U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Tim Scott of South Carolina have filed legislation in Washington to convert several federal education assistance programs into vouchers that would allow students to take federal tax dollars to private schools.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has called for a further expansion of that state’s voucher program, which already has doubled in size since it started in 2011. It now diverts tax dollars to 19,800 students. Far more interesting than the governor’s proposal, however, is a recent State of Indiana report that shows what kind of students actually are using vouchers.

Remember all the claims, at least in Texas, that vouchers are mainly intended to help low-income, disadvantaged students escape from “failing” neighborhood schools? We will hear the same claims next year, accompanied by a large volume of crocodile tears.

In any event, according to the official Indiana report, 40 percent of the students receiving vouchers in Indiana during the current school year never attended a public school in that state. So, do voucher advocates really care who the students are? What were these kids “escaping” from?

The Indiana report reconfirms my long-held suspicions that the voucher movement is largely a privatization raid on public schools intended more to benefit private school owners than school children. Depending on eligibility requirements, they also can give families of above-average wealth a break—at taxpayers’ expense — on their kids’ private school tuition.