Month: October 2016

Education, the Supreme Court and Trump


Now that we know which presidential candidate really should be locked up – and it’s not Hillary – it is interesting to observe the rationalizations that some partisan officeholders and hypocritical Christian religious “leaders” have for holding their noses and sticking with Donald Trump.

“Interesting” is not the word I wanted to use, but it will have to do.

One of the often-repeated excuses for putting an admitted sexual molester in charge of our country’s future is that he would appoint the “right” ideologically inclined people to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In truth, we don’t know who Trump would appoint to the Supreme Court or anything else, for that matter, since about every other sentence that comes out of his mouth is a distortion, fantasy or outright lie. But if you want to take him at his word on the high court issue, educators and parents should consider that one of the potential Supreme Court nominees on the “short list” he released a few months ago is Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett.

Willett is among the nine justices who recently turned their backs on Texas public schools and millions of school children suffering from under-funded classrooms.

Willett wrote the grandiosly worded but mealy mouthed Texas Supreme Court opinion that admitted the state’s school funding system is awful but concluded that it didn’t violate the state constitution. That decision gave the governor and the legislative majority a free pass to continue short-changing school kids.

I wonder if Willett will be joining other partisan officeholders and voting for Trump. Maybe, maybe not. During the Republican presidential nominating follies, Willett repeatedly mocked Trump on Twitter.

So, let us hope the justice’s interest in the future of our country is stronger than his apparent lack of interest in the future of public education in Texas.





There is no “civil right” to attend a charter school


Gov. Greg Abbott is confused. Maybe it’s because he has been listening to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick too much. In any event, he was parroting Patrick this week – there ought to be a law against that — and calling expansion of charter schools a “civil rights issue.” In truth, most of the interest in adding more charter schools comes from business interests eager to cash in on the public’s education tax dollars.

Yes, technically, charter schools are public schools, and, in reality, they are when they are organized and operated by a school district or a truly non-profit organization. But the charter school movement in Texas is attracting a great deal of interest from corporations and entrepreneurs with buildings to lease, computers to sell and for-profit management companies to take over school operations, all funded with your tax dollars. And those tax dollars are coming from your already under-funded traditional neighborhood schools.

Some charter schools are quite good, but others are very bad, little more than conduits for state tax dollars to flow into private bank accounts. On average, studies have shown, charters are no better or worse than traditional public schools. And evidence indicates that some corporate charter chains try to cherry pick the best students, despite denials by many charter advocates.

The Texas Education Agency is responsible for regulating charters and has closed down some chronically bad ones. But considering the governor’s and the legislative majority’s history of under-funding public education, it is not clear that TEA has enough resources to do its job effectively.

Nevertheless, in an address in Austin to the Texas Charter School Conference, as reported by WOAI Radio, Abbott said: “This is a civil rights issue.”

The governor is wrong. Parents don’t have a “civil right” to use tax dollars to send their children to a charter school or a private school. Even using that term is an insult to minority Texans who remember the days when privatization was a route used by many white families to avoid sending their children to public schools that were being integrated during the real civil rights era.

Parents do have a right under the Texas Constitution to send their children to a free public school, and they have a right to expect their neighborhood public schools to be adequately and fairly funded.

Abbott and the legislative majority have ignored that constitutional right. During the 2015 legislative session, they gave a higher priority to tax cuts than school funding, even though many districts still hadn’t recovered from $5.4 billion in school budgets cuts imposed four years earlier. Texas spends, on average, $2,700 less a year to educate a child than the national average, and many of the children being short-changed are low-income, minority kids.

All Texas school children have a right to adequately funded public schools, not hollow, meaningless promises about “civil rights” to attend a charter school.




George Washington warned us (sort of) about this election


I am not sure how many social studies’ lesson plans have been torched by this year’s presidential race, but Washington Post columnist Stuart Rothenberg has a pretty good, not-from-the-textbook summary of the current, raging battle for the free world’s most important office.

“This election has gone from unusual to unexpected to surprising to odd to strange to weird to bizarre,” which is where we now find ourselves,” he writes, predicting that the next few weeks before Election Day will be “indescribable.”

It should be difficult for either Clinton or Trump supporters to argue with that summation and prediction, although I am sure many will. It’s the nature of the political divisiveness that has made our country’s basic civic exercise so uncivil.

In his farewell address in 1796, George Washington warned against the “common and continual mischiefs” of partisanship, but I doubt that Washington had any idea just how bad those “mischiefs” would become, even to the point of paralyzing government in the national capital that now bears his name.

He couldn’t have predicted either that a woman would ever be a major party’s nominee for the nation’s top office, that she would be eminently more qualified for the office than her chief male rival – or that she would be so vilified by a large chunk of Americans for a laundry’s list of reasons, some deserved but many driven by sheer partisanship, sexism or conspiratorial imaginations.

Elections are about choices, and seldom is any choice perfect. But there are numerous reasons for supporting Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, the basic reason being competence for high office. TSTA and the National Education Association are supporting Clinton because she is the only candidate running for president who has a grasp of the needs of public schools, students and educators. She will promote public education, not demonize or privatize it.

Public education is an afterthought for Trump. About the only thing he has said about public schools is to propose the diversion of education tax dollars for private school vouchers. And he is a horrible role model for children, unless the schoolyard bully is your idea of world leadership.

In the column linked below, Rothenberg writes: “Republicans hate Clinton so much that they are willing to embrace a populist snake oil salesman who is proud he hasn’t paid his taxes, rarely (if ever) sounds thoughtful, knowledgeable or intelligent, and goes on 3 a.m. tweet binges to avenge past slights. And oh, yes, he uses his charitable foundation to settle lawsuits and to purchase a huge painting of himself. Intelligent conservatives have recoiled from Trump, wisely noting that he is a narcissist with no ideology.”

Unfortunately, not everyone willing to risk the country’s future on this snake oil salesman is a Republican. Too bad George Washington couldn’t warn us about him.