Month: <span>March 2016</span>

Governor needs a dictionary and a civics refresher course


Texas Tribune writer Ross Ramsey does a good job in the column linked below of catching Governor Greg Abbott in a gross misrepresentation (lie is too ugly a word) about voter fraud in Texas. It seems the governor needs to pull his head out of the political sand long enough to get an education in how to use a dictionary – or fact check his own political claims.

Abbott was asked Monday to respond to a remark that President Obama made in Austin last week during a Texas Tribune interview at South by Southwest Interactive. “The folks who are governing the good state of Texas aren’t interested in having more people participate (in voting),” the president said.

Abbott responded that Obama and other leaders of his party are “against efforts to crack down on voter fraud.”

“The fact is that voter fraud is rampant,” the governor added. “In Texas, unlike some other states and unlike some other leaders, we are committed to cracking down on voter fraud.”

Ramsey, however, cited a study of voting in Texas between 2000 and 2011. During those elections, 35.8 million votes were cast and only 104 cases of voter fraud were detected. That is fewer than three cases of fraud per 1 million votes – three too many but hardly a “rampant” number.

President Obama was correct. Members of the governor’s political party fought long and hard to enact Texas’ voter identification law, less to combat voter fraud than to make it more difficult for many Hispanics, African Americans, low-income people and the elderly to vote. Those are the people most likely to vote for President Obama’s party and less likely to have the required photo IDs.

The real fraud is in the voter ID law and in claims that it was enacted to combat fraud.

Some states are making it easier for people to vote. Texas has deliberately gone the other way.

While he is looking for his dictionary, it also wouldn’t hurt for the governor to sign up for a refresher course in American government and civics, where he should have learned from an early age about the basic importance of voting – not politically motivated voting restrictions — to the American way of life.



How to defuse student anxiety


The issue of carrying guns on college campuses has been settled in Texas – at least for now at state-supported universities – but campus carry still will be debated. This week, the Georgia Legislature is considering a similar campus gun law, which prompted the article linked at the bottom of this post.

Written by Georgia Tech professor Ian Bogost and published in The Atlantic this week, the article discusses the stress and anxiety the author finds pervasive among this generation of college students and why allowing guns on campus is not a solution. It is long but worth reading.

“Today’s college students are beset by unease. And it’s no wonder why – their whole lives have been lived bathed in vague and constant threat,” Bogost writes.

Today’s 21-year-old students were in kindergarten when terrorists struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and have grown up during the “war on terror,” he points out. They began high school just after the 2008 global financial crisis, which precipitated billions of dollars in government cuts to primary, secondary and higher education. Scholarships were reduced, and tuition and fees were increased.

Sound familiar?

Getting into college also has become more difficult, Bogost points out, because of an “arms race” to raise test scores and rankings. And, once in college, young people are building mountains of student debt while facing increased competition for even entry-level jobs.

“It’s entirely reasonable for young people to fear a future that has never been more tenuous,” he writes. “There are reasons to fear on college campuses. But those fears are misdirected at hypothetical bad guys with guns against whom good guys with guns would prevail.”

Bogost believes America would be better off – and I agree – if lawmakers instead took more meaningful steps to address students’ anxiety.

“We can do that by providing the resources to teach them well as kids, to give them affordable opportunities to pursue higher education, and to help them secure productive places in society matched to their talents and capacities.” he says.

That approach, however, would require more thoughtfulness, statesmanship and commitment of resources than merely waving the Second Amendment requires.


Passing the buck on college costs


Tuition at state-supported universities is going up – again – and our state leaders are trying to convince us that they actually care. What they actually care about is finding someone other than themselves to blame for the fact that many young people in Texas are being priced out of college degrees – or coming dangerously close.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick each have ordered separate studies of the problem. But the reality is that the statehouse majority, including Abbott and Patrick, are more interested in cutting taxes than they are in adequately funding education – either higher or K-12 – and have been relying on unelected university regents to cover rising college costs with a series of tuition increases.

Since the Legislature in 2003 enacted the tuition deregulation law, which gave regents the authority to set tuition independently of legislative control, the cost of attending public universities in Texas has gone up by 65 percent, adjusted for inflation, while state funding per student has gone down by 27 percent, also adjusted for inflation.

These figures, which come from Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes, were reported by the Houston Chronicle.

Abbott and Patrick weren’t in their current offices when the 2003 law was passed. But they and the legislative majority have been content – maybe eager – to keep passing the buck to the appointed regents while they can brag to their tea party supporters about holding the line on state spending.

Remember, one of Abbott’s and Patrick’s highest priorities during last year’s legislative session was cutting taxes, not realistically addressing the budgetary needs of public schools or universities.

Now, they are ordering studies and expressing concern. Concern, however, won’t pay anyone’s college tab.




Another computer billionaire meddling in education


Move over, Bill Gates, and watch out, educators. There’s another computer billionaire out there who has anointed himself an education expert. The story linked below is about  Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings, who, among other things, wants to expand charter schools and replace locally elected school boards with privately run boards.

He also is suspected of wanting to replace teachers with computers, and earlier this year he pledged $100 million to help accomplish his goals.

Hastings, a former president of the California State Board of Education, apparently has been convinced for years that privately run charter schools are the way to improve education in America. And the more computers those schools purchase to replace teachers, the more billions that he and his techie buddies will amass while the quality of education deteriorates.

In a speech last year to the California Charter Schools Association, Hastings proposed replacing locally elected school boards with privately run boards, such as those that govern corporate charters.

“The most important thing is that they (charters) constantly get better every year…because they have stable governance – they don’t have an elected school board,” he was quoted as saying.

Of course, there are some major problems with that statement. First, a lot of charters don’t get better every year, including charters that Hastings has been associated with. Many charters get worse, and some fail. Granted, as teachers in a couple of school districts in San Antonio know all-too-well, elected school boards can be disasters. But so can privately run boards, especially if they are stacked with high-tech entrepreneurs who know nothing about teaching and learning.

Parents, school employees and other taxpayers, though, can replace elected school board members at the next election, whereas they have no control over privately run boards.

Now, if only we had a way of “dis-electing” billionaires who insist that their fortunes have suddenly given them remarkable insight into the educational process.