Month: <span>February 2016</span>

Elections have consequences for education


Elections have consequences for public schools, and, if you haven’t already cast an early ballot, you have 5.2 million reasons – the children who attend those schools — to vote tomorrow (March 1) in the party primary of your choice.

Down-ballot from the presidential nominating contests, both Republican and Democratic voters will find local races for the Texas Legislature and the State Board of Education that could make significant differences in school funding, classroom sizes, the future of high-stress testing, the quality of textbooks and curricula standards and the success or failure of vouchers and other privatization efforts.

Most of these races will be decided in the primaries, not in the general election in November.

TSTA is not partisan. It is backing both Republican and Democratic candidates, based strictly on a candidate’s support and advocacy for public schools, students and educators.

Groups trying to undermine public schools for their members’ profits aren’t partisan either, and one in particular, the misnamed Texans for Education Reform (TER), is making significant contributions in selected legislative races.

In two races in particular – one Democratic and one Republican – TER is trying to unseat two of the strongest advocates that public education has in the Texas House. One is Democratic Rep. Mary Gonzalez in House District 75 in El Paso County, about whom I have written before, and the other is Republican Rep. Gary VanDeaver in House District 1 on the other side of the state in Northeast Texas.

Gonzalez has voted to increase education funding and fought excessive standardized testing, and VanDeaver, a respected, former school administrator, also is a strong advocate for giving students and educators the resources they need to succeed. Both are members of the House Public Education Committee, which makes them worrisome to TER, whose primary interest in education is diverting tax dollars to corporate charters and other for-profit schemes for its members.

So far, TER has contributed almost $300,000 in advertising and other services to Gonzalez’s opponent, former Rep. Chente Quintanilla, and more than $100,000 to VanDeaver’s challenger, former Rep. George Lavender. As legislators, both Quintanilla and Lavender voted to under-fund education, and Lavender even voted to slash $5.4 billion from school budgets in 2011, costing thousands of Texas educators their jobs.

To see all of TSTA’s Republican and Democratic endorsements in races for the Legislature and the State Board of Education, please click on the link below. They all are important for education, but the Republican primary race for the State Board of Education in District 9 in Northeast Texas is worth some extra attention. TSTA is supporting Lufkin ISD school board President Keven Ellis to succeed Thomas Ratliff, a good board member who is not seeking reelection.

One of Ellis’ opponents is Mary Lou Bruner, an extremist ideologue backed by the tea party who has accused President Obama of being a male prostitute, believes there were dinosaurs on Noah’s ark, dismisses climate change as a hoax dreamed up by Karl Marx and denies slavery was a major issue in the Civil War. Bruner can write all she wants about that on her Facebook page – and she has, and more — but we don’t want her on the State Board of Education trying to write that into our children’s curricula and textbooks.

Yes, elections have consequences for education, folks, big consequences. Tomorrow is your chance to say something about that. Go vote!





Politics and education don’t always mix


Except for former candidate Jeb Bush’s wrong-headed ideas about school accountability and privatization and Ted Cruz’s vow to abolish the Department of Education, candidates for the Republican presidential nomination have mostly ignored the needs of public schools.

So, it’s not much of a surprise when the candidates and their key political supporters also sound as if they have forgotten a lot of what they ever learned in school, particularly about the system of government under which they hold and seek office.

Consider a statement that Gov. Greg Abbott made this week in an interview with The Texas Tribune, after he had endorsed Cruz for president. Asked if he, as governor, could work with Donald Trump as president, Abbott replied that he “can work with any president…and it’s a whole lot easier working with a federal government that follows the Constitution as opposed to violate the Constitution.”

The answer was largely non-responsive as it relates to Trump, since no one really knows what he would try to do with the Constitution as Bully-in-Chief.

Cruz fancies himself a constitutionalist, but he was one of two White House candidates (Bush was the other) proposing after the Paris terrorist attacks to ban Syrian refugees from entering the United States, unless they were Christian. That idea doubtlessly sounded good to Cruz’s right-wing base – which is why he proposed it – but it clearly would violate constitutional protections against religious discrimination.

Abbott tried to ban Syrian refugees from entering Texas, even though immigration, under the Constitution, is a responsibility of the federal government, not the states.

As attorney general before he was governor, Abbott may have set a record suing the federal government and bragged about it. He has never bragged, however, about losing most of those suits, even with a very conservative circuit court with jurisdiction over Texas and a conservative U.S. Supreme Court.

So, now Abbott wants to promote a national effort to rewrite the Constitution to remove safeguards he finds offensive. Fortunately, his idea has about as much chance of becoming reality as Trump has of entering a monastery.

Maybe what Abbott meant to say to the reporter was, “It would be a whole lot easier working with a federal government that interprets the Constitution the way I want it to.”

There are no educational requirements for political candidates or officeholders, and I am not proposing any. But I wonder how many of them could pass the citizenship test required of immigrants who have become naturalized citizens because they really do value our Constitution.



School privatization group increases donations in key educaton race


Texans for Education Reform (TER), the Austin-based school privatization group that wants Chente Quintanilla to help it turn public schools into cash cows for well-heeled entrepreneurs, now has invested almost $300,000 – maybe more by the time you read this – into Quintanilla’s effort to unseat state Rep. Mary Gonzalez in the Democratic primary for House District 75 in El Paso.

A victory by TER and Quintanilla would be a serious loss to school children in El Paso and throughout Texas because Gonzalez, as I have written before, is a true advocate for public schools and has the record to prove it.

Gonzalez has voted to increase school funding and reduce standardized testing. And, as a member of the House Public Education Committee, she has opposed private school vouchers and other school privatization schemes. Quintanilla, as a House member a few years ago, voted for a school finance law that created a permanent funding shortage for public education and voted to increase high-stakes testing.

Despite its name, TER is not interested in real education reform. Its goal is to convince the legislature to expand corporate charter schools and experiment with other privatization ventures that offer its business supporters new investment opportunities – with your tax dollars. The more charter schools, for example, the more rental opportunities for TER members, etc., etc.

When he was in the House, Quintanilla also voted against strong regulations for charter schools, which operate with your tax dollars.

TER has contributed almost $200,000 to Quintanilla during the past month alone in the form of in-kind donations for TV advertising, direct mail to voters, social media, consulting and get out the vote efforts. That kind of support will be hard for Quintanilla to ignore back in Austin if it helps him defeat Gonzalez and TER comes calling. And TER will come calling.

School kids, parents and educators can’t afford to lose Gonzalez. With early voting ending on Friday and Election Day next Tuesday, Gonzalez can use every pro-education vote that District 75 has to offer.

Gonzalez isn’t the only strong supporter of public schools that TER is trying to unseat. Among other targets, the group also is trying to defeat state Rep. Gary VanDeaver of New Boston in the Republican primary for House District 1 in Northeast Texas.

VanDeaver is a former public school administrator, but TER has contributed more than $100,000 for advertising and campaign mail to his opponent, George Lavender, a former House member who voted to cut $5.4 billion from public education in 2011.

Education reform? Baloney.


Trading the pope for the education commissioner


Gov. Greg Abbott turned down an invitation to attend Pope Francis’ appearance today in Juarez, the Mexican city across the border from El Paso. He cited a scheduling conflict. Today was the day he planned to formally swear in the new state education commissioner, Mike Morath.

Governors, of course, can change their schedules – if they want to. But Abbott didn’t, which may seem puzzling because he is a devout Catholic. But Austin American-Statesman editorial writer Tara Trower Doolittle offered an explanation.

“Although Francis’ visit to the United States last fall was met with rock star enthusiasm by the public, his reception by Republican leaders was more muted,” she wrote. “While Catholic theology and GOP ideology align on matters of abortion and gay marriage, the list of issues where they part ways is long: global warming, immigration, Syrian refugees, aid for the poor and the death penalty.”

And she added: “Francis has used his popularity and his pulpit to remind those in power of where the Church stands. Considering the fallout from Pope Francis’ visit last fall, maybe Abbott is wise to stay away.”

Yes, the governor may have avoided a papal tongue-lashing for a chance to brag about his new education pick.