Month: <span>September 2014</span>

Patrick advocates more education cuts


Even as he continues to try to convince voters that he is a champion of education, Dan Patrick makes it clearer and clearer that, if elected lieutenant governor, he will cut education spending. In fact, he says so in his latest fund-raising appeal.

“Did you know that forty cents of every dollar in the state budget is spent on public education?” he asks in bold-faced type in the email. “We don’t need to throw more money at the problem; we need to use existing resources more efficiently.”

Actually, about 37 cents of every dollar in the current state budget is earmarked for public AND higher education, and education should account for a lion’s share of the budget because it is one of the most important functions of state government. But, despite Patrick’s claim, Texas has never “thrown” money at schools. Texas, in fact, ranks among the lowest states in per-pupil funding, more than $2,600 below the national average during the 2013-14 school year.

Patrick’s statement, moreover, makes it clear that he doesn’t intend to spend any additional money on education, and that, folks, means he intends to further cut the amount of state funding for each student in public schools. Why? Because enrollment in Texas public schools is growing by about 80,000 students per year, and each year the Legislature doesn’t appropriate enough money to meet that growth, each student receives less. Classrooms become more crowded. Districts raise local taxes if they can and cut back on computers, books and other instructional materials.

Patrick already has voted (in 2011) to cut $5.4 billion from public school budgets. That has had the effect of reducing spending by almost $500 per child since 2010-11. And, in 2013, he voted against the entire state budget, which included money to partially make up for the 2011 cuts.

A few weeks ago, Patrick claimed to have led the fight to restore education funding in 2013, but that was snake oil, and Democrat Leticia Van de Putte, the genuine education champion in the lieutenant governor’s race, called him out on it.

And what about his call for using “existing resources more efficiently”? That’s more campaign blather, because what he really wants to do is divert more tax dollars from public schools to privatization schemes, such as corporate charters and private school vouchers.

Patrick is dodging every public appearance he can these days, including a debate scheduled with Van de Putte tomorrow night. He is hoping the “R” behind his name on the ballot will make him the No. 2 elected official in Texas. If you care anything at all about public education, do you really want that to happen?



When school lunches become political


Most educators, except for some food service directors or cafeteria managers, have never heard of Todd Staples, and it is just as well. He is nearing the end of his second – and last – term as Texas agriculture commissioner, and in what may be his parting shot of publicity has registered a beef with a “Meatless Monday” program that Dripping Springs ISD is experimenting with in some of its school cafeterias this year.

Now, Staples is entitled to his opinion, which he expressed this week in an oped in the Austin American-Statesman, but I have a couple of beefs with him over it.

Number one, Staples is not a nutritionist, his article includes factual errors about nutrition and the decision by the Central Texas school district is not a subversive plot, as Staples infers. It is, in fact, a well-reasoned exercise in local control, a concept that Republican officeholders, such as Staples, supposedly cherish – almost as much as Tea Party Republicans cherish cutting school funding.

Which brings me to my second complaint. For those of you who don’t recall – and that may be most of you – Staples lost a race for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor last spring. Most educators may have ignored him because he said virtually nothing about school funding, testing, school lunches or any other education issue over which the lieutenant governor has considerable influence.

About the only thing I remember him campaigning for was “border security,” an issue that the lieutenant governor doesn’t have much control over. But Staples couldn’t hyper-ventilate as well as Dan Patrick could on that issue for the benefit of Tea Party voters, and so Patrick is the GOP’s lieutenant governor nominee.

As agriculture commissioner, Staples has some oversight over school lunch programs. But the main function of that office under Staples and his recent predecessors has been to promote Texas agriculture products. There’s nothing wrong with that, necessarily, but Texas produces a lot of vegetables, as well as meat.

I don’t know if Staples already has decided what he is going to do when his last term as commissioner ends in a few more months. But I wonder if his rant against “Meatless Mondays” was an audition for a new job, say, as a lobbyist or promoter for beef, pork or poultry producers.

We’ll see.




Guess who voted against all education funding – and more


Anyone who thinks I have been writing too much about Dan Patrick, the snake oil salesman of Texas politics, may want to stop reading now. But remember, folks, this guy is running for what, in some respects, is the most powerful office in state government, and he needs a lot more attention than the mostly peek-a-boo campaign he is running.

Patrick’s latest major transgression — for which his Democratic opponent, Leticia Van de Putte, already has called him out – was claiming credit for restoring most of the $5.4 billion in school budget cuts during the 2013 legislative session. These would be the same cuts he voted for in 2011 and Van de Putte voted against.

In truth, most of the funding was restored in spite of Patrick because he voted against the entire state budget in 2013. That means he voted against all state funding for public education and every other program and service the state has to offer, including the salary for his own services, such as they are, as a state senator.

Patrick voted against funding for every state-supported university in Texas, every health care program, every environmental protection program operated by state government, new highway construction and maintenance, every economic incentive for job creation and every educator’s and state employee’s salary. And the list goes on.

Patrick, who continues to scream “border security,” also voted against something more critical and relevant – domestic security. His vote against the budget also was a vote against continued funding of the highway patrol and other law-enforcement functions of the Department of Public safety, a much more critical concern of law-abiding Texans than the political theater of immigration bashing.

For someone who aspires to hold the state’s No. 2 job, Patrick has demonstrated a strong disrespect for the essence of public service.

Senate education chair ignores education


Someone needs to tell Dan Patrick, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, that something important happened last week in Austin. A judge ordered the Legislature to do its job and adequately pay for the public schools.

If you’re not sure where to find Patrick, go down to the Mexican border, where you may find him waving a big Texas flag, preaching “border security” and annoying the heck out of local law-enforcement officials. Be careful not to get shot by any self-anointed “citizens’ militia” vigilantes, who are even more annoying and dangerous than Patrick.

But Patrick is bad enough.

Even after Judge John Dietz had carefully and forcefully pointed out that the constitutional rights of 5 million school children to a public education – and the state’s own economic future — were in serious jeopardy because of the Legislature’s failure, the Senate education chair remained totally out to lunch on education.

Ignoring education entirely, Patrick instead spent the holiday weekend sending emails trying to raise money for his lieutenant governor’s race by fanning the flames on immigration. “Border security is the top issue for all of us,” he declared, falsely conjuring of images of a criminal tide that only he could stop.

The truth is, folks, that the vast majority of immigrants are simply seeking a better life for their families and that immigration and significant demographic changes in Texas will continue, despite all the Dan Patricks who refuse to accept reality. Equally true is the fact that an effective immigration policy will not come from Patrick or any other state official. It will come only from the federal government, if and when Republicans in Congress also decide to accept reality.

Bashing immigration, though, is a lot easier for Patrick than actually trying to lead policymakers in drafting a plan for adequately and fairly funding public education. His main “interest,” if you want to call it that, in public education has been to cut school budgets, saddle kids with high-stress standardized tests and siphon school tax dollars for unproven privatization schemes.

Maybe we should just leave him down on the border — or behind his radio microphone or computer or wherever he hides from voters. Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, meanwhile, actually is prepared to give educators and students the resources they need for success.