Whenever Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick opens his mouth about education, it’s risky to take his words at face value, but here goes. At a Capitol news conference the other day, when Patrick and other Senate leaders were promoting a package of education “reforms” that would do next-to-nothing to improve learning opportunities, Patrick declared:
“148,000 students, approximately, today are trapped in 297 school campuses across our state that have been failing for more than two years.”
OK, assuming the man didn’t pull the figure out of thin air, let’s compare that to the total public school enrollment in Texas, which, according to the Texas Education Agency, was 5,151,925 during the 2013-14 school year. Simple math indicates that the “trapped” students, as Patrick calls them, account for only about 2.9 percent of the total enrollment, fewer than three out of 100 kids.
Under any valid performance measure, this means the state’s public schools and educators, overall, are doing a very good job, despite the lackluster support they have been receiving in recent years from state leaders such as Patrick.
No one wants any child to be deprived of access to an excellent education. But the parent trigger, achievement school district, private school vouchers and other unproven gimmicks that Patrick and his cohorts are promoting are exercises in futility that wouldn’t help the children they allegedly are trying to help.
Most of the failing schools are in low-income neighborhoods, where poverty – not the schools and not their teachers – is the biggest obstacle to success. Academic studies have consistently shown the negative influence of poverty on education, and Texas has one of the highest poverty rates and the highest percentage of adults without a high school diploma in the country.
Yet, Texas policymakers like Patrick continue to under-fund public education. Low-income children need adequately and fairly funded, neighborhood public schools and community support services, not privatization.
Patrick and several of the senators supporting the privatization package voted to cut $5.4 billion from public school budgets in 2011. And, Patrick, as a state senator, voted against all education funding and all other public services when he voted against the entire state budget in 2013.
One of the bills Patrick is backing would grade all Texas schools from A to F. This is nothing more than an effort to blame and embarrass local educators for the Fs that a bunch of state policymakers, beginning with Patrick, really deserve.