Month: <span>June 2015</span>

Educators have reason to fear a Walker presidency


Despite what it may often resemble, the long race to elect the next president of the United States is, of course, more than a bad vaudeville show. It will result in our turning over the White House to the next leader of the Free World, and some of the wannabes already are causing nightmares.

So far, the candidate whose prospect of becoming president I most dread is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and not simply because he is a union-buster. What he is trying to do goes way beyond destroying unions. He is intent on destroying jobs, individual livelihoods, and depressing wages, union and non-union alike, beginning with education and the public sector service so critical to millions of Americans and the country’s economic future.

At this point, Walker’s chances of becoming the Republican nominee probably are better than several other candidates. His chances will be boosted if the Koch brothers decide to put their enormous wealth behind him and Jeb Bush continues to stumble. Walker is the Kochs’ kind of politician, an officeholder trying to manipulate government for the benefit of anti-government one-percenters. And, he has accomplished in Wisconsin what the Kochs would like to see happen all over the country.

As Wisconsin governor, Walker led a successful drive to abolish collective-bargaining rights for most public employees, including educators, further weakened unions with a “right to work” law and now is trying to dumb down higher education by abolishing tenure for faculty members. There also is an effort afoot in Wisconsin to let people teach school with only a high school diploma.  And, Walker has been trying to mislead the rest of the country by claiming improvements in Wisconsin’s economy.

In truth, according to a cover story by Dan Kaufman in this past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, Wisconsin has fallen to 40th among the states in job growth and 42nd in wage growth since the collective bargaining ban was enacted in 2011. The Wisconsin Legislature this year cut $250 million from the state’s university system to help cover a deficit in the state budget, and Wisconsin now is among the first 10 states from which people are moving.

From a more general perspective, the same New York Times article noted how the decline in union bargaining power has been blamed for suppressing wage growth for all middle-class workers, both union and non-union members, while incomes of the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans have been increasing.

Millions of individual, middle-class wage-earners, including educators, have been suffering under Walker’s policies, the policies about which he has been bragging on his unofficial presidential campaign trail. He is expected to officially enter the race at some point – the umpteenth Republican to do so.

We can hope, for the sake of the country, that he will encounter his own “oops” moment, forcing his withdrawal before he gets much farther down the road.



Dallas ISD needs a superintendent, not a bully


Mike Miles, the dictatorial superintendent of Dallas ISD, may or may not have skated closer to the precipice of getting fired when he recently ignored the wishes of a majority of his elected school board and terminated three principals, including one who was extremely popular and worked very well with parents.

Although this incident may have been his cheekiest yet, this is not the first time Miles has shown disrespect for school trustees and the taxpayers who elected them. You may recall that last year he ordered DISD police to physically remove one trustee, Bernadette Nutall, from a campus in the district she was elected to represent.

This time, though, even The Dallas Morning News editorial board, a long-time Miles defender, sat up and took notice with a hand-wringing editorial that chastised the superintendent but stopped short of demanding his termination.

Dallas ISD faces challenges, and effective educators are ready to take the opportunity to turn them into successes. But Miles would rather bully than lead. His administration has been marked by top-down, ineffective policies and a highly paid management team that has created a hostile working environment for teachers and other school employees – and a hostile learning environment for students. All, of course, in the hijacked name of “reform.”

Teachers have been saddled with excessive paperwork and excessive meetings, and some have been chastised by administrators in front of their students during surprise classroom visits. Miles also has imposed an evaluation system that does not truly reflect the work that educators are doing.

NEA-Dallas, TSTA’s local affiliate, has long demanded Miles’ removal.

In his latest bit of arrogance, Miles fired the three principals who had the support of a board majority. One was Anna Brining, an elementary principal who had been personally praised by Board President Eric Cowan for her work and strong engagement with parents. Cowan’s daughter attended Brining’s school.

To make matters even worse, Miles continues to employ a DISD human resources manager who, according to an internal investigation reported by the Dallas News, has lied, bullied staffers and falsified records. And, you can bet the human resources manager is paid more than any of the ousted principals were.

The News, in its editorial, said Miles needs to “adjust his approach.”

It’s too late for that. The DISD board needs to show him the door.



Did author of Second Amendment order campus gun ban?


James Madison, the author of the Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment right to bear arms, unfortunately wasn’t around to weigh in on the recent legislative debate over whether firearms should be allowed on college campuses.

But he did attend a meeting of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors, on which he served, in October 1824 when that very same issue came up. The minutes of that meeting report the following decision of the governing body:

“No Student shall, within the precincts of the University…keep or use weapons or arms of any kind, or gunpowder.”

Another member of the Board of Visitors who was present was Thomas Jefferson, another one of the nation’s founders who doubtlessly also had an opinion of what the Second Amendment did and didn’t mean.

The lengthy minutes, linked below, don’t reflect what, if anything, Madison or Jefferson may have said about the issue. But I can’t imagine that the campus gun ban would have been adopted without the agreement of the two former U.S. presidents.

The other members of the governing board “didn’t have to look far for an originalist perspective” on the Second Amendment, wrote Matt Valentine, who teaches writing and photography at the University of Texas at Austin. Valentine’s article in Politico, “Texas Just Made College Less Safe,” called the historic anecdote to my attention.

Modern politicians of all stripes like to claim – regardless of how hare-brained their ideas – that they are carrying out the intentions of “our forefathers.” In truth, though, the guns-galore crowd behind Texas’ soon-to-be campus carry and open carry laws doesn’t really care what our founders would have done. Nor, obviously, do they care that much about campus safety.


Schools get $1.5 billion; hoarders get $18 billion


The $1.5 billion that the Legislature appropriated for public education (on top of enrollment growth) in the new, two-year state budget certainly is better than a $5.4 billion cut, which is what happened four years ago. But it is nothing for lawmakers to brag about, particularly when you stack it up against $18 billion.

(Some lawmakers, however, are bragging.)

But, getting back to the $18 billion (billion with a very big B), that is the amount of taxpayers’ money that the Legislature left unspent, sitting in the bank, doing no one any good. That figure includes an estimated $11.1 billion in the Rainy Day Fund, which my friend and Texas Monthly writer R.G. Ratcliffe suggests should now be renamed the “Texas Hoarding Fund.”

And, the $18 billion includes what is left after the legislative majority spent $3.8 billion on a property tax cut that will be a joke for the average homeowner and a franchise tax cut that will be significant for many businesses.

In case you haven’t seen R.G.’s blog, which ran during the closing days of the session, it is linked below. In it, he calculated that a stack of one billion one-dollar bills would be about 68 miles tall, and a stack of 18 billion one-dollar bills would be about 1,224 miles tall, or the distance across the state from Texarkana to El Paso and halfway back. I will take his word for the math.

More significantly, though, R.G. calculated that the $18 billion the state is hoarding “would pay for an entire year of police and fire protection, garbage collection and wastewater service, parks and libraries and all other incidental operations for the cities of Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio – combined.”

Imagine what that $18 billion (or even just half of it) could have done if the Legislature had appropriated it for education, health care and other under-funded programs in the state budget.