Month: <span>July 2015</span>

Spinning a bad education budget


As are many of his colleagues, state Rep. Scott Sanford of McKinney, one of the tea party darlings undermining public education, already is preparing for next spring’s Republican primary, where he will be courting the votes of ultra-conservative, anti-government constituents for a third term in the statehouse.

So he sent out an email this week bragging about his role in passing a “conservative, responsible state budget.”

The budget certainly is “conservative,” but it is far from “responsible.” While leaving billions of tax dollars unspent, it continues to under-fund public education, higher education, health care and a host of other state services. Many school districts will have less money to spend per student during the upcoming school year than they did five years ago.

In his email, Sanford spews bureaucratic talk about growth rates and spending caps without making it clear that education and other critical programs could have been more adequately funded without raising anyone’s taxes.

Sanford won’t be the only member of the legislative majority who will be bragging about their budgetary skills and priorities during next year’s campaign season. Voters who may be tempted to believe their line of baloney should take a look at all the “temporary” portable buildings being erected at their neighborhood schools or, after the new school year begins, ask a parent how crowded their children’s classrooms are. They also can ask a teacher how much he or she will be spending from a modest paycheck on classroom supplies.


Spreading vouchers to suburbia


Remember when all those voucher advocates used to shed crocodile tears over the plight of low-income children “trapped in (allegedly) failing schools”? Remember their claims that they were trying to help only inner-city kids with tax dollars for private school tuition? Well, at least one major voucher proponent on a national scale finally has dropped the pretense and admitted that it wants taxpayers to provide vouchers for well-heeled kids in suburbia as well.

This voucher promoter is the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (or ALEC), which is behind dozens of pieces of anti-public education, anti-consumer, anti-middle class legislation considered by state legislators throughout the country.

As Jonas Persson, a writer at the Center for Media and Democracy, points out in the article linked below, “School vouchers were never about helping poor, at-risk or minority students.” But that was a “useful fiction” for voucher advocates for years. Now, they are beginning to be more open. Here in Texas, you may recall, state Sen. Donna Campbell had an open-ended voucher bill that died during last spring’s legislative session.

According to one estimate cited in this article, vouchers and voucher-like tax-credit schemes already steal $1.5 billion a year in tax money from public schools throughout the country. And, voucher advocates are hoping to increase that to $5 billion a year by 2020 – to benefit for-profit and religious schools at the expense of public, neighborhood schools were most children, especially kids from poor families, will continue to be educated.

Wisconsin, where anti-educator presidential candidate Scott Walker is governor, already is “well on its way towards limitless voucher schools,” the article notes.

“Problems in Suburbia: Why Middle-Class Students Need School Choice, Digital Learning and Better Options” was the title of a presentation during the ALEC meeting this week in San Diego. ALEC also has revised the talking points for its “model” voucher bills to claim, another other things, that “all children from low- and middle-income families should receive public support for their education regardless of whether they are attending a public or private school.”



Without change in Legislature, education goal will wither


It is great to set ambitious educational goals, as the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is expected to do today for the emerging generation of Texans. It would be even better to see them realized, but that will be a big problem, given the prevailing head-in-the-sand mindset of the Texas Legislature.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, the Coordinating Board will adopt a new strategic plan for at least 60 percent of Texas residents aged 25-34 to have a higher education degree or certificate by 2030. At present, only 38 percent of Texans in that age group have postsecondary credentials.

“With population growth projected to be greatest among Hispanics, a group with below-average graduation rates, the challenge going forward is daunting,” reporter Ralph K.M. Haurwitz writes.

“Daunting” may not be a strong enough word, considering the legislative majority’s record in under-funding both higher and public education. As recently as last spring, the Legislature left billions of dollars in the bank while refusing to take any steps toward drafting an adequate, fair and constitutional school funding system.

The Coordinating Board needs to set goals. They remind us how far we need to go, and maybe they will provoke some attention. But as long as the legislative majority persists in dancing to the tea party’s tune and refuses to make the necessary investments in Texas’ young people and their future, this goal may as well be pie in the sky.



Waiting in the dark for school supplies


With temperatures in Central Texas nearing 100 degrees, it is almost time for a new school year. I know that may not make a lot of sense, but it is the way it is. I hope all the air conditioners are working when teachers, staff and students report back to campus, although that may be a dicey proposition in some school districts, given the state of education funding in Texas.

Another sign of the approaching school year was the long line outside Allan Elementary School in East Austin yesterday. According to the Austin American-Statesman, parents from low-income families started arriving as early as 3:30 a.m. to get free backpacks, each filled with $40 worth of school supplies and clothing for their children. Many parents waited three hours in the dark because they didn’t want to be late for their jobs. Yes, most poor people work.

The line also started forming so early because the need is great. Some 60 percent of students in Austin ISD are from low-income families, a percentage that is about typical of the state as a whole. This event was sponsored by the Manos de Cristo charity, which because of resources had to limit its giveaway to 2,000 children, but it likely will be repeated by other charities throughout the state.

And the average Texas teacher – who is paid less than teachers in most other states — will dig about $700 out of his or her own pocket to help pay for classroom supplies before the new school year is out, according to TSTA’s most recent survey.

So, a lot of people are preparing for the new school year – teachers, administrators, parents, students, charities. And many are doing so at financial sacrifice.

And, what is the state leadership doing? Besides congratulating itself for being “pro-education”?

It is continuing, of course, to under-fund the public schools while it fights a state district court ruling that the schools are so poorly funded that the funding system is unconstitutional. House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen tried to convince his colleagues to start getting serious about school funding during last spring’s session, but the legislative majority insisted instead on spending billions of dollars on tax reductions and leaving billions of additional dollars in the bank.

Now, state leaders are hoping the Texas Supreme Court will reverse or weaken the lower court decision. Meanwhile, as The Dallas Morning News reported this week, many school districts are receiving less in funding per student than they did in the 2010-11 school year.

If only the state of Texas had the same sense of urgency for education as teachers, parents and charities do.