Month: <span>October 2016</span>

Religious education is not a government responsibility


Writing about a recent pro-voucher rally at a Catholic High School in San Antonio, a pro-voucher blogger concluded, “Anti-Catholic bigotry must not stand in the way of quality education for all Texas students.”

I am not sure where the blogger came up with the half-baked idea that the opposition to vouchers from TSTA and virtually the entire public education community is driven by anti-Catholicism. It isn’t. She was as wrong about that conclusion as she and other members of the pro-voucher crowd are about suggesting that vouchers are the only way to provide quality education for Texas school children, particularly kids from low-income families.

The writer preferred the terms “school choice” or education savings accounts, but whatever you want to call them, vouchers are vouchers.

TSTA and other educators oppose them because they would take tax money from under-funded public schools and give it to a relative handful of parents to spend on private school tuition or home schooling expenses.

The Texas Constitution says nothing about vouchers or private schools, but it does specifically prohibit the expenditure of state funds for religious institutions. Article I, Section 7 of the constitution states: “No money shall be appropriated, or drawn from the Treasury for the benefit of any sect, or religious society, theological or religious seminary; nor shall property belonging to the State be appropriated for any such purposes.”

The constitution requires the Legislature to adequately and fairly pay for a system of free public schools. TSTA believes vouchers would undermine that responsibility because the vast majority of Texas kids will continue to be educated in public schools, while private schools would use tax dollars to cherry-pick a select few students.

We don’t want any private schools – religious or non-religious – receiving tax dollars. That includes Catholic schools, Baptist schools, Jewish schools, Muslim schools, atheist schools and all other private schools dedicated to whatever religion or life-altering experience someone may care to practice.

Many ministers and other religious leaders throughout Texas oppose vouchers because they value their local public schools and don’t want the acceptance of state funds to lead to government regulations. One of the education community’s biggest allies in the anti-voucher fight is Pastors for Texas Children, a group of ministers representing a number of different denominations that don’t want to see tax dollars drained from their neighborhood public schools.

Some Catholic leaders, however, want vouchers. One advocate is Brother Stanley Culotta, president of Holy Cross High School, where the pro-voucher rally was held in San Antonio. The blogger described him as an “ardent warrior for school choice” who is concerned about the future of Catholic education. Without vouchers, he fears that only wealthy children will be able to attend private schools.

Churches already receive significant tax breaks on their property. So, in a sense, they already are being subsidized by taxpayers. But the future of religious education is not the responsibility of Texas taxpayers at large. It is the responsibility of religious congregations, their benefactors and families whose children attend religious schools.

If the legislative majority in Austin would fulfill its responsibility to adequately pay for public schools and quit messing around with vouchers and other privatization schemes, Culotta and the parents whose children attend his school also could begin to regain some confidence in their local public schools.



Thousands of children are victims of tight-fisted politics


When Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says he cares about children with disabilities — or any other school kids, for that matter – be careful about assuming he actually will do something meaningful for them, because his record screams otherwise.

A Patrick spokesman was asked to respond this week to another Houston Chronicle article about the recently dscovered Texas Education Agency policy that kept tens of thousands of children with disabilities from receiving the special education services they needed in public schools.

“Helping children with disabilities has been a priority for the lieutenant governor even before he was elected to public office, and he was very concerned to learn about prior policies,” the spokesman said in a written statement. “Our office is working very closely with the Commissioner of Education to ensure that students are identified and served appropriately.”

It is true, as the spokesman was careful to point out, that TEA imposed its 8.5 percent cap on special education enrollments before Patrick was ever elected to state office.

But the tight-fisted approach to state spending – regardless of the human cost – that the cap represented has been championed by Patrick since his first term as a state senator in 2007.

In 2011, Patrick voted with the legislative majority to cut $5.4 billion from public schools, including special education. In 2013, he voted against the entire state budget, including all funding for education and every other state service and program, including Child Protective Services. The budget passed despite Patrick’s vote, and yet he also has been expressing concern about thousands of foster children who are vulnerable to mistreatment or neglect, partly because of an under-funded protective services agency.

Patrick can work as closely as he wants with the education commissioner, but if he really wants all the disabled children in Texas to receive the special education services they need, he will see to it that the public education budget is increased next year. More funding also will be needed to protect vulnerable foster children.

Patrick has to prove that children in need really are his priorities, and that will require an about-face from his record.




Voucher students cost more, perform worse


People who really value public education already knew that diverting education tax dollars to private school vouchers – aka education savings accounts, tax credit scholarships or “school choice” – is a bad idea that ultimately will harm public schools. Now, here is some new information about how bad the idea can be.

Taxpayers, students and educators in Wisconsin, the state with the longest-running voucher program, are paying dearly. On average, voucher students are getting more general state revenue than public school students and are scoring lower on proficiency tests.

During the 2015-16 school year, Wisconsin state government gave an average $7,353 in tax revenue to each voucher student attending a private school. This figure from the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau was based on the percentage of full-time equivalent students in the Milwaukee, Racine and statewide voucher programs enrolled in grades K-12.

By contrast, the average student enrolled in a public school received $5,108 in general state aid.

Clearly, Wisconsin – under the short-sighted, anti-public service administration of Gov. Scott Walker – is short-changing its public school students. But they still are scoring, as a whole, significantly better than voucher students on standardized tests.

The scores weren’t even close on the first administration of the new Wisconsin Forward Exam, which debuted last spring. It is that state’s version of our STAAR.

According to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, 42.5 percent of public school students scored proficient or better in English language arts, compared to only 19.1 percent of voucher students. Some 42.3 percent of public school students were proficient or better in math, compared to only 14 percent of voucher students. And 50.1 percent of public school students were proficient or better in science, compared to 21.6 percent of voucher students.

Yet, here in Texas, vouchers are one of many bad ideas that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick refuses to quit peddling. He doubled down after most members of the House Public Education Committee renewed their hostility to them in a public hearing last week.

Patrick would rather waste time and rhetoric on so-called “school choice” and other gimmicks than give public schools and their students what they really need – an adequate and fair funding system that gives all children an opportunity to succeed in the classroom and beyond.

That includes the low-income children for whom Patrick claims to advocate but who suffered the most when he voted to slash $5.4 billion from school budgets in 2011.

Now, while many school districts are still struggling with overcrowded classrooms and other fallout from the cuts, Patrick wants to divert more money from them to benefit a handful of families with grants of tax money to spend on private school tuition or home-school expenses. This isn’t “choice.” This is cherry-picking.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of school kids will continue to be educated in public schools that Patrick continues to short-change.

Patrick also repeated the erroneous argument that vouchers won’t hurt public schools because when a student takes a voucher and leaves, the school won’t need the money. Baloney.

There are set costs – buses, bus routes and utilities, to name a few – that can’t be proportionately reduced, and those costs are significant.

Texas taxpayers can’t afford to pay for two education systems, one public and one private. The state constitution allows for only a public education system – with no provisions for cherry-picking.

Legislator: Schools have more money than they need


Maybe state Rep. Gilbert Pena of Pasadena knows more about the state of education in Texas than educators do, but I doubt it, particularly when he makes a statement like this: “I feel that schools get more than enough funding.”


Yes, that is what he said, quoted in the Houston Chronicle story linked below, when a reporter asked him about education funding in a state that spends about $2,700 less per student than the national average, ranks near the bottom in that category and has thousands of overcrowded classrooms. Pena also wants to squeeze school district budgets even more by eliminating the business franchise tax, a major source of state funding for education, which he voted to reduce last year.

Pena also criticized the Robin Hood law that requires property wealthy school districts to share their tax revenue with poorer districts. But he is part of the problem with this outdated law that now threatens to take tens of millions of dollars from Houston ISD’s budget, even though most of the district’s students are low-income and in need of more classroom resources.

Robin Hood should be replaced, but it is still on the books because the governor and members of the legislative majority, including Pena, refuse to enact a new school finance plan that adequately and fairly funds all of Texas’ public schools.

Pena has been in the Legislature only one session, but it is time for the voters of District 144 to retire him and return his opponent, former Rep. Mary Ann Perez, to Austin. TSTA is supporting Mary Ann because as a House member she was a strong advocate for public schools and voted in 2013 to restore much of the school funding that had been cut in 2011.

Unlike Pena, Mary Ann gets it. She understands that educators and school children need more than plaudits and pats on the back. They need adequate financial support, and she will work to get it.