Month: <span>April 2016</span>

Trying to deny that money is important to education


An article about Austin’s Eanes ISD, posted yesterday on TSTA’s Facebook page, made a strong point for the fact that money is critically important for public schools. But some people – and not just our elected state leaders – will continue to deny reality, or at least try to spin themselves into denial. Don’t let them spin you.

The story from the Houston Chronicle noted that Eanes, home to Westlake High School in a wealthy suburban area of West Austin, is the best school district in the state and the second best in the nation, according to Niche, a school rating website. The article also notes that the district spends more than $18,000 per student each school year, about double the state average and several thousand dollars more than the national average as well.

This pays for a lot of good teachers, computers, the best instructional aids, reasonable class sizes – all the ingredients for a quality learning environment. This level of expenditure certainly is not representative of Texas public schools as a whole. Nor is the Eanes demographic mix. Eanes’ students are mostly while, while most Texas public school students are minority and low-income.

Deliberately or not, however, one Facebook respondent missed the point of the story, and I am noting his comment because it so clearly mirrors the attitude of the state leadership, which continues to under-fund public schools in general and denies money is an issue.

This reader wrote that the article “implies that if we throw more money at a school that students will magically begin to learn.” He admitted that money can “help make things easier,” but added, “To insinuate that others can’t reach the same level because of economic status is the kind of ‘entitlement society’ thinking that leads to false hope.”

In the first place, the state of Texas has never “thrown” money at public schools. The last time I checked, average spending per pupil in Texas, based on average daily attendance, was about half what Eanes spends and about $2,000 less than the national average. Some school districts are spending less now per student than they did before the legislative majority cut $5.4 billion from public education five years ago.

The “entitlement society” remark is a tired old relic that also misses the point. Many low-income children in property poor school districts do very well academically, thanks to their hard work and the hard work of dedicated, underpaid teachers. But we will never know how many more students from those same schools also could prosper if their teachers had more help and more resources.

Entitlement? Yes, under the Texas Constitution, every child in a Texas public school is entitled to a quality education and an equal chance at success. It is a basic constitutional right that the governor and the legislative majority are failing to fulfill and, in the process, dashing the hopes of thousands of Texas children.



Another bad voucher idea: letting the “market” determine school funding


Many bad ideas in the political arena never really go away. They get resurrected, often under different names. Private school voucher proponents have resorted to a number of euphemisms, including “school choice,” “tax credit scholarships,” and “education savings accounts,” a term that the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) is now trying to peddle.

In case you are not familiar with this libertarian-leaning group, TPPF wants to underfund most of state government, including education, and then privatize what’s left. Let the free market work for those Texans who are fortunate enough or wealthy enough to profit from the ride, and the heck with just about everyone else. That is not their public message, of course, but that would be the net effect, including as it would apply to educational opportunities for Texas children.

According to the Texas Observer article by Patrick Michels, linked below, TPPF has published a new report concluding that it is “fruitless” for the Legislature to continue debating how much more money it may cost to provide an adequate education for all students, now 5.2 million and growing. One of the co-authors is Kent Grusendorf, a long-time voucher advocate and former chairman of the House Public Education Committee.

In the current school finance lawsuit, a state district judge has ruled the state should spend a lot more money to create an adequate, equitable and constitutional school finance system, but that ruling is being reviewed by the Texas Supreme Court.

Instead of spending more money on schools, TPPF is proposing that parents be given tax-paid “education savings accounts” (vouchers) to improve their choice of schools for their children.

In TPPF’s view, Michels writes, “The only way to know what education should cost…is to privatize it and see what people are willing to pay. Kids could pick the schools that rise to the challenge, and the schools with no students would close.”

He adds, “Things might get a little messy for the last kids left at those failing neighborhood schools, but they’d realize their mistake soon enough.”

Michels correctly points out a number of problems with TPPF’s alleged “parent empowerment” theory. Some parents may be poor judges of what makes a good school, they may let community loyalty adversely affect their judgment and “market forces don’t always address things like shared social values, evidence-based science and history theory, or even career readiness skills.”

I also would point out that many low-income parents, even with vouchers, would be unable to afford the entire tuition or the transportation necessary to send their children to good private schools.

This “free market” theory of funding public education is baloney. Regardless of what the Texas Supreme Court rules, the Legislature needs to trash all voucher proposals and adequately and fairly fund every public school in every neighborhood in Texas. They can make the effort to figure out how much they need to budget.




Letting political ideology gut public education


Sam Brownback is not a well-known name in Texas, but he is about as huge an obstacle to public education as, say, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is in the Lone Star State. As governor of Kansas, Brownback already has inflicted great harm on public education in that state and apparently is determined not to stop until he can herd kids into one-room school houses and equip them with slate tablets.

That may be all the ravaged Kansas education budget can afford when he and his legislative cohorts are through trying to repeal the 20th century.

State funding for public education in Kansas has slipped so badly under Brownback’s watch that some schools have closed and several districts ended classes early last year to save money. We can hope that this doesn’t eventually happen in Texas if the Texas Supreme Court reverses a lower court order for the Legislature to enact an improved and constitutional school finance system. The state’s appeal of the lower court decision is still pending before the high court in Austin.

In a similar case in Kansas, The New York Times reported, the Kansas Supreme Court has determined that cuts in education funding violate that state’s constitution, and the court has ordered the state’s public schools to be shut down altogether if the state doesn’t provide more money to poorer districts by June 30.

The Kansas Legislature has enacted a plan to provide more money to those districts. But, facing the possibility of another, more-far reaching decision on school funding, the governor and his conservative legislative cronies – who also are unhappy over some other recent court decisions — are mounting a drive to unseat Supreme Court justices at the polls.

For the governor and his allies, political ideology obviously trumps the separation of powers doctrine that is such an important part of constitutional law in the United States. Sadly, they also are letting their slash-and-burn, small-government ideology gut public education.

If the Texas Supreme Court also orders Texas’ leaders to quit under-funding our public schools — and who knows if it will – our governor, lieutenant governor and many of our legislators are likely to be unhappy as well. But their potential unhappiness is much less important than the future of Texas school children.