Month: <span>March 2014</span>

Using tax dollars to prepare students for the 19th century


We already know that spending tax dollars on private school vouchers amounts to stealing from public schools, but a report in Politico this week sheds some new details on just how bad this thievery has become. According to the article linked below, taxpayers in 14 states this year will spend nearly $1 billion in tuition for private schools, including many religious schools that teach creationism, a science alternative that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional for teaching in public schools.

None of that $1 billion is being spent on private schools in Texas, at least so far. But many of our tax dollars are being diverted from neighborhood schools to charter schools that officially are considered “public” but generate profits for private operators.

About 250,000 students in other states are attending religious and other private schools at taxpayer expense either through direct voucher payments or more indirect schemes, such as tax-credit scholarships, which still siphon tax dollars from public schools, Politico reports. That number is still just a small fraction of the 55 million public school students in the United States, but it is a 30 percent increase from 2010.

This year, 26 states are considering the creation of new voucher programs or expanding existing ones. One bill pending before the Arizona Legislature would make more than 70 percent of that state’s students eligible for vouchers. And, some prominent Republicans in Congress are pushing for voucher funding on the federal level.

The Texas Legislature is not in session this year, but voucher advocates are likely to be back in force when lawmakers convene next January, trying to disguise their tax-grab schemes as parental “choice.”

In religious schools benefitting from tax dollars, students are hearing a lot of positives about Adam and Eve and a lot of negatives about Charles Darwin, if they are hearing about Darwin at all.  According to Politico, one science education activist has identified more than 300 creationist schools receiving tax subsidies.

“I don’t think the function of public education is to prepare students for the turn of the 19th century,” Eric Meikle of the National Center for Science Education has correctly pointed out. Unfortunately, though, legislators in many states aren’t listening to him.


Dallas ISD takeover attempt fails the smell test


The real stakeholders in Dallas ISD – parents and taxpayers who actually live in the district – are starting to weigh in on the money-backed effort to hijack the district and convert it into a home-rule charter operation, and they are making it clear they don’t like the idea.

Supporters of the scheme, which was kept secret for who knows how long, finally hosted town hall meetings in Dallas last night and were greeted with a barrage of justifiable complaints and questions. According to the Dallas Morning News, parents and taxpayers wanted to know who is paying for the campaign, why it is being moved so fast, what organizers want to do with the locally elected school board and why no promotional materials were published in Spanish, the first language of many DISD families. And, real answers still are in short supply.

The only source of funding for the campaign who has been made public so far is former Enron trader John Arnold, a billionaire who lives miles away in Houston and who already has declared war on teachers and other school employees by seeking to abolish their hard-earned, defined-benefits pensions.

The group fronting the takeover attempt has deliberately misnamed itself as a grassroots organization professing to “Support our Public Schools,” when, in truth, it is a well-financed, outside group seeking to offer more opportunities for corporate interests to take over neighborhood Dallas schools.

“This is not a debate,” state Rep. Jason Villalba, who supports the takeover effort, tried to tell the audience at one town hall meeting. Oh, but it is a debate, and so far Villalba’s side hasn’t been very convincing that the effort is anything more than a privatization grab.

Villalba also was quoted in the Dallas Morning News, “This is not something that is meant to be done by billionaires from another place.”

Oh, yeah? Looks like a duck, walks like a duck, smells like a duck….You know the rest.


Another senator who will be bad news for public schools


Don Huffines, the wealthy Tea Partier from Dallas who unseated moderate state Sen. John Carona in the Republican primary, has endorsed the teaching of creationism in the public schools, and a Dallas Morning News writer in the blog linked below expresses surprise.

The only thing surprising about this development is the writer’s surprise.

Sure, as the writer points out, the U.S. Supreme Court some years ago declared the teaching of creationism in the public schools unconstitutional. Should that make a difference to anyone on the way to being a state senator? Sure, but not to an ideologue, and Huffines clearly is an ideologue.

He definitely will be one of those ultraconservatives who will move the Senate even more to the right. He faces no Democratic opposition in November and has endorsed fellow Tea Partier Dan Patrick for lieutenant governor.

Judging from what else Huffines has had to say about his legislative priorities, he will be bad news for anyone learning or working in public schools. He supports private school vouchers and opposes raising more state tax dollars for schools or anything else. For that matter, he also will be bad news for anyone who tries to get from Point A to Point B in a reasonable amount of time on a Texas highway or depends on any other kind of public service.

So, endorsing the effort to inject creationism into the public school curriculum shouldn’t surprise anyone who paid much attention to Huffines’ recent campaign against Carona.

The writer ends his blog with the comment that “voters should start paying closer attention.”

You think?



Stripping teachers of work protections is not reform


Support Our Public Schools, the misnamed group that wants to hijack Dallas ISD, is opening up a bit more about what it may have in mind for Texas’ second largest school district and the teachers who work there.  And, some of those ideas aren’t really about improving schools. They are about bashing teachers and diminishing the local control Dallas voters have over their neighborhood schools.

According to a Dallas Morning News blog, the groups wants to achieve more “flexibility” with labor by removing all contractual guarantees and due process rights for school employees. This supposedly would be to put the “highest performing teachers” in classrooms more quickly, but, in truth, it would allow whoever was given control of the district to more easily replace the best, most experienced teachers with lower-paid newcomers.

Instead of benefitting students, which the group purports to want to do, this step would weaken the students’ learning environment.

The group also is tossing around the idea of requiring more qualifications for candidates who want to run for the school board and maybe including some appointed seats on the board to ensure the board has enough “specific expertise” to run such a large district.

That idea may have some appeal, but it would weaken the authority of local voters over their school board and replace it with the judgment of alleged education “reformers” who may be more interested in costly privatization experiments than in the best interests of students, educators and taxpayers. Remember, one of the major backers of this group is John Arnold, a wealthy, former Enron trader who wants to replace hard-earned, defined-benefit pensions for teachers and other public employees with risky 401(k)s.

Elections obviously are an imperfect process – just look at the some of the people who get elected – but elections provide taxpayers accountability that would be lost in a radical district takeover backed by individuals with a hidden agenda.

And, if we are going to require school board candidates to be better qualified, why not candidates for the Legislature? The biggest problem facing Texas school districts today is an underfunded and unfair school finance system that the legislative majority refuses to change and the Republican candidate for governor continues to defend. The only requirements they had to meet to run for office were age and residency. They don’t have to know anything about education, and education is state government’s greatest responsibility.