Day: <span>February 4, 2014</span>

When education “reformers” are part of the problem


The fact that El Paso businessman Woody Hunt knows how to make money – and he certainly does – doesn’t make him an education expert. Nor does his former service as a political appointee on the University of Texas Board of Regents, nor the fact that he may even consider himself an education “reformer.”

I found it interesting, nevertheless, to read his comments in the El Paso Times over the weekend about what he sees as a failure of the public school system to adequately prepare children for college or the work force. What he didn’t acknowledge was that he and many other business people like him are part of the problem he purportedly is trying to correct.

Hunt is a major contributor – at least $100,000 so far – to a new political action committee, Texans for Education Reform. If I had a few dollars for every time the words “reform” or “expert” have been misused in connection with education, I would be almost as rich as Hunt by now. And, here it is again.

As I have written before, Texans for Education Reform is largely an offshoot of Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a political action committee largely funded by wealthy business people seeking not to improve the judicial system, but to protect themselves from damage lawsuits by aggrieved customers and other consumers. And, they have been hugely successful.

Now, some of the same leaders of Texans for Lawsuit Reform, including TLR founder Richard Weekley of Houston, have spun off this new group, which is less interested in improving public education than it is in making it easier for business people to profit from education tax dollars.

They promote more online learning to boost “virtual school” profits from tax dollars, more charter schools to let privately operated charter chains rake in tax dollars and a so-called “parent trigger” law to make it easier for a private charter operator to convince parents to turn over a neighborhood school and its state funding to corporate hands.

Online learning, of course, can play an important role in a 21st century education. So can some carefully selected charter schools. But this group ignores the most pressing problem facing public schools today, and that is an inadequate and unfair school funding system, which once again has been declared unconstitutional by a state judge.

While Woody Hunt and his colleagues promote these potentially lucrative, but unproven, educational detours, they refuse to acknowledge that they themselves are a major reason our public schools are underfunded, thousands of classrooms are overcrowded and many children are in danger of being ill-prepared for the future.

These latter-day, self-styled education “reformers” are to blame because they have been less interested in education and more interested in promoting and preserving a state leadership that keeps business taxes and regulations low. Not only have they not demanded that the legislature improve public school funding, they also stood by while the governor and the legislative majority slashed $5.4 billion from public school budgets three years ago.

Moreover, members of this group have contributed thousands, if not millions, of dollars to Gov. Rick Perry and the legislators who imposed the cuts, perpetuating a state leadership that increasingly seems to view public education as little more than a potential profit center for school privateers.

Woody Hunt, for instance, contributed $53,200 to Perry’s 2010 reelection campaign, just before the 2011 cuts. And, in the past few years, he has contributed $175,000 to the Associated Republicans of Texas campaign fund for disbursement to education budget-cutters in the Legislature. During the last two election cycles, Hunt also gave $135,000 to former state Rep. Dee Margo of El Paso, who voted for the education cuts, before being unseated by Democrat Joe Moody, who voted to restore most of the funding.

Hunt has contributed to Republicans and Democrats alike, but, as the above donations show, he often has sided against the best interests of public schools and their students. And that, folks, is not education reform.