Month: <span>July 2014</span>

Bad attacks on good teachers


Texas is not New York, as countless politicians have felt the need to remind us over the years, but so-called education “reformers” who pose a threat to public schools in both states share a common tactic – the demonization of teachers.

On Monday, an advocacy group called the New York City Parents Union filed a lawsuit challenging New York’s teacher tenure laws. This follows by only a few weeks a court ruling in California declaring that state’s teacher tenure laws unconstitutional.

Like sharks swimming to blood in the water, other detractors may begin using these cases to renew attacks on “bad” teachers who allegedly have jobs for life for all the woes befalling modern civilization, beginning with their children’s struggles in the classroom.

In truth, no teacher – good or bad – is guaranteed a job for life in New York. Tenure simply guarantees a teacher in that state due process protections against being fired unfairly.

Texas teachers don’t even have tenure. Most have year-to-year contracts. But they do have certain job protections and employee rights that TSTA will continue to strongly defend, both out of a sense of fairness for teachers and their families and a concern for the school children who deserve the quality education that the vast majority of teachers provide, with a minimal amount of turnover and disruption.

Who, you may ask, demonizes teachers in Texas?

Pick your own word, but the point is that Texas teachers, as a group, have been dragged through a recent history of disrespect by politicians who praise them publicly while:

# Slashing education funding — $5.4 billion in school budget cuts a few years ago cost 11,000 teachers their jobs and crammed thousands of children into overcrowded classrooms.

# Paying teachers some of the lowest salaries in the country and forcing them to pay ever-increasing health insurance premiums.

# Robbing teachers of valuable teaching time and their students’ of learning time with an absurd, counterproductive series of high-stakes, standardized tests.

And, if an attempted home rule takeover of Dallas ISD is successful, teachers in that district may be deprived of basic workplace rights, with teachers in other districts targeted next.

Teachers in Texas don’t have tenure. But they – and their students – have a lot more to lose as these ideological attacks on public education continue.

Health care lifeline in jeopardy; Cruz celebrates


The junior U.S. senator from Texas – the one with the jumbo ego and jeering disregard for most of his constituents — was at his worst this week, chortling over the prospect that thousands of working-class Texans could lose health care coverage.

Ted Cruz, who as a member of Congress has access to one of the best health care plans in the country, applauded a ruling by a federal appellate court that could price many of his hard-working constituents – including many educators and thousands of children in public schools – out of affordable health insurance.

He called the ruling a “huge victory for the American people,” a declaration conjured out of thin air and a total disregard for people who, unlike U.S. senators, sometimes have to struggle to make ends meet. If Cruz ever knew anything about that reality while growing up, he seems to have forgotten it now.

In case you missed it, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington ruled on Tuesday that the federal subsidies that have helped thousands of Texans afford health insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, are illegal in Texas and 35 other states because they didn’t establish their own state-run insurance exchanges.

Despite Cruz’s celebration, which was tied to a Republican fund-raising appeal, the court decision is not going to cause anyone to lose their subsidies or their insurance coverage, at least not yet, because the Obama administration will appeal the ruling. Also, later the same day in a separate case, a federal appellate court in Virginia upheld the subsidies.

Ultimately, the final decision will be made by the U.S. Supreme Court, which already has upheld most of the Affordable Care Act, despite Cruz’s repeated attempts to misrepresent the law as a lawless abuse of federal authority. Remember, his antics even led to a costly shutdown of the federal government for a while last year.

I don’t know how many Texas educators have purchased subsidized health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, but I suspect that many have, considering the continued, rising costs in Texas’ health plans for teachers. The state’s share of health insurance premiums for Texas educators has been frozen since 2002, while premium costs for some educators has increased by as much as 238 percent during that period.

And, those higher costs, despite what Cruz and other detractors would like everyone to believe, have absolutely nothing to do with Obamacare. Most predated Obamacare.

TSTA will press the Legislature next year to increase the state’s contribution to teacher health care. But, meanwhile, the federal option under the Affordable Care Act may be a lifeline for some educators, a lifeline that Cruz would love to sever.

He needs to sit down and shut up.

Real security is more than political rhetoric


Real security for Texas families is more than hyperbolic, politically charged rhetoric over “securing” Texas’ border with Mexico, a refrain that Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick, among others, continue repeating ad nauseam.

For example, there is the future security that a well-funded public education system can bring for thousands of Texas school children, a goal that Abbott and Patrick – the Republican candidates for governor and lieutenant governor – already have undermined and may wreck completely if promoted to higher office.

Patrick, you may recall, voted with the legislative majority three years ago to slash $5.4 billion from public school budgets, and Abbott, as attorney general, continues to defend those cuts in court in a lawsuit over school funding brought by more than 600 school districts. And, both candidates are running on a Texas Republican Party platform that calls for even further cuts in state spending for all levels of education, K-12 as well as higher education.

Abbott also is continuing to defend his incomprehensible decision to prohibit the public release of information about where dangerous chemicals may be stored, even though those chemicals probably pose a greater security threat to millions of Texans than the terrorists he claims he is trying to protect us from. Many of those plants are dangerously near homes, schools, churches, parks and other places where people gather.

Abbott, who has received thousands of dollars in political donations from the chemical and fertilizer industries, is deservedly being pounded on this issue by his Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis. And, his suggestion that private citizens drive around, asking the managers of industrial plants what chemicals they store, has met with deserved ridicule.

So, with no real defense for the indefensible, he has lashed out on Twitter, claiming Davis “wants to make it easier” for terrorists. See the Houston Chronicle blog linked below.

Abbott may think he spots a terrorist – or an undocumented immigrant – behind every tree, but Texas deserves a more talented and far-sighted governor than that, folks.



Playing politics with tomorrow’s history


What good is the Fourth of July to a politician if he or she can’t wave the flag and pass the hat? The Independence Day email that Dan Patrick wasted on me, however, fell flat. He won’t get a dime, and his hyperbolic warning about border “security” insulted the spirit of the day he allegedly was trying to invoke.

The Republican nominee for lieutenant governor is still claiming that hordes of drug-laden, disease-carrying, would-be terrorists are streaming across the Rio Grande, threatening the land of the free and the home of yammering ideologues.

Undocumented immigration, of course, is a problem, but it won’t be solved by the likes of Dan Patrick, who is simply using it to fan the flames of fear and ride the money and the votes of the fearful into the state’s No. 2 job.

Most of the people crossing the border are neither terrorists nor drug traffickers, but are people seeking jobs and a better life. Last time I checked, immigrants causing the most stir were children from Central America, thousands of them, fleeing abuse and criminal activity in their own countries and hoping for a better break here.

“I believe the United States is still the greatest country in the world. It is a beacon of liberty that offers the promise of a better life through equal opportunity,” Patrick said in his email.

Equal opportunity is centered in a strong public education. And, here in Texas, that equal opportunity is being increasingly challenged by public officials such as Patrick who have voted to slash education funding and, if given the opportunity, likely will do so again.

Once upon a time, Patrick got a fresh start in life by declaring bankruptcy, walking away from debts and changing his name. Those kids and parents streaming across the border are seeking their own fresh start, and they are willing to work hard to get it. The federal government, not Dan Patrick, needs to enact a workable immigration reform law with a way for immigrants to earn citizenship.

The United States – Texas included – is a land of immigrants from many cultures, and people who try to ignore that – or use immigration to pander to ideological fear — are placing themselves on the wrong side of tomorrow’s history.