Month: <span>August 2015</span>

The governor needs an education in government


As a former Texas Supreme Court justice and state attorney general, Greg Abbott was an influential advocate of “tort reform,” meaning he worked to prevent aggrieved consumers and other everyday Texans from having their day in court. Now, as governor, he also wants to shut the courthouse door to school districts seeking more funding for educators and students.

On the eve of a Texas Supreme Court hearing of the latest school finance lawsuit, Abbott is quoted today in The Dallas Morning News as saying, in effect, that courts don’t have any business deciding educational policy.


I wonder if he also believes that courts don’t have any business deciding critical issues like voting rights or Texans’ right to clean air and clear water, that those issues also should be left simply to the will of a Legislature and executive branch of government now controlled by a politically charged, backward-thinking ideology. Maybe he does.

Here is what Abbott said: “Both as a matter of constitutional law and as a matter of responsible policymaking, the courts are not the appropriate forum for making decisions about statewide education policy. It’s time to stop fighting about school finance and start fixing our schools.”

In truth, Abbott and the legislative majority have refused to try to fix our schools. They had a great opportunity last spring to give Texas educators and students an adequate and constitutional funding system – without raising anyone’s taxes. Instead, they chose to spend several billion dollars on tax cuts and leave billions of additional taxpayer dollars in the bank, while per-student funding in Texas remains among the lowest (38th) in the country, more than $2,000 below the national average. Some school districts are still spending less per student than they did five years ago, before the legislative majority slashed $5.4 billion from public education.

Educational spending in Texas would be even lower were it not for a history of court intervention into one of the Legislature’s most critical – and most neglected – functions.

In the latest lawsuit, brought against the state by about 600 school districts, a state district judge ruled months ago that the funding system is inadequate, unfair and unconstitutional. Now, Abbott is hoping the Texas Supreme Court will make the ruling go away.





A former schoolteacher who made a huge difference


Lyndon B. Johnson, a Texas schoolteacher-turned-policymaker who gave countless American children a chance, is honored with a state holiday today on the 107th anniversary of his birth. The San Antonio Express-News, in an editorial linked below, notes that LBJ’s experience as a young teacher of low-income Hispanic kids in South Texas was the spark for his later success in passing landmark federal laws expanding educational opportunities, health care and voting and civil rights.

The editorial also notes the “irony” that Johnson’s home state “has for many years been distancing itself from the logic inherent in the 36th president’s signature accomplishments.” I prefer the word “outrage.”

For sometime now, the current political leadership in Texas has been in the middle of efforts to dismantle the Great Society, an LBJ legacy that – although far from perfect – has nevertheless boosted opportunities for countless American families.

The dismantling campaign has hurt.

Johnson’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act has been reduced to a bureaucratic testing nightmare – for students and educators alike – and the Voting Rights Act has been undermined by the U.S. Supreme Court and significantly weakened in Texas by a voter identification law designed to intimidate low-income Hispanics and African Americans from voting.

Texas has the highest rate of uninsured residents in the country, and the current political climate is determined to leave it that way by refusing to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government would pick up most of the cost.

LBJ certainly had a lot of faults – the Vietnam debacle remaining high on the list – but he recognized, as the Express-News points out, that government had a legitimate role to play for people “genuinely in need.” And, inspired by those poor school kids in Cotulla, TX, that is what he tried to do.

I suspect LBJ would be outraged by much of today’s political crop in Texas — career politicans who perpetuate their careers by bashing government — and he would mistake the current presidential race as an audition for a circus clown show.


A hangover from education “reform”


In addition to the normal excitement and anticipation the new school year brings, Dallas ISD has the added benefit of beginning the year without Mike Miles as superintendent. You may recall that Miles abruptly ended his dictatorial reign over DISD during the summer and moved back to Colorado, where he has founded a company called Third Future, an education consulting firm.

Miles is still calling himself a “reformer,” despite the fact, as The Dallas Morning News pointed out, he “didn’t produce significant academic gains during his time in Dallas.”

In a posting on his new company’s blog, Miles says the “reform community is suffering from a low-grade depression.”

Maybe it’s not a depression but a hangover from binging on testing, privatization and bureaucrat bells and whistles that have hindered, rather than advanced, the education cause.

Education “reformers” who bash teachers


Six Republican presidential candidates addressed an education forum hosted by a self-styled “reformer” in New Hampshire yesterday, and if you think they showed any respect to educators or promoted any proposal to actually help students in the classroom, you would be wrong.

Republicans were the only candidates who attended, and I am not sure any Democratic candidates were even invited. The result, anyway, was a day of bashing teacher unions, promoting privatization and releasing political hot air.

Some examples, as reported by the Washington Post:

# “I have no problem with saying that teachers’ unions deserve a political punch in the face, which they do.” – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

# “One of the things that I’d like to see is universal choice…even for parents that can afford it on their own.” – Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, promoting tax-paid vouchers to help even rich parents send their kids to private school.

# Let’s “abolish all teachers’ lounges, where they sit together and worry about ‘Woe is us.’” – Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

The candidates – who also included former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former corporate executive Carly Fiorina – also wrung their hands over Common Core and took shots at the U.S. Department of Education.

The event, at which the candidates appeared separately, was hosted by former CNN reporter Campbell Brown, who has filed a lawsuit challenging teacher unions.

Incidentally, the last time I checked, not one of the Republican presidential candidates has responded to the National Education Association’s candidate vetting process. Three Democratic candidates – Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley – are participating.