Month: <span>January 2017</span>

Dan Patrick’s untruths about vouchers


Sometimes, I don’t think Dan Patrick would recognize the truth if it reached out and bopped him on the nose. I know that’s a cliché, but it almost has a ring of justice for someone who prefers ideological prattle.

In a new political email and video touting Senate Bill 3, the private school voucher bill, the lieutenant governor says, “It will give school choice to every family in Texas.”

Actually, it won’t, far from it. The bill would provide private school vouchers to only a few thousand Texas families, while taking tax dollars from the under-funded public schools that the vast majority of Texas’ 5.3 million school children will continue to attend.

Elsewhere in the message, Patrick says, “I believe every child in Texas should have access to a high-quality public education.” Really?

If so, Dan, then why are you trying to take money from public schools to benefit a handful of private schools, and why did you, as a state senator a few years ago, vote to slash $5.4 billion from the public education budget? Why are you now supporting a Senate budget proposal that would continue to shortchange public schools?

Finally, Patrick promoted vouchers for people who “believe you have the right as a parent to provide the best educational environment for your child.”

There is a better idea. If you, as a parent, really want “to provide the best educational environment for your child,” you can tell your legislators to vote against Patrick’s voucher bill and then vote for someone else for lieutenant governor the next time you get the chance.





No, governor, a voucher is not a civil right


Gov. Greg Abbott’s claim at the pro-voucher rally this week that vouchers were a “civil right” was blatantly untrue. It also was an insult to millions of Texans, especially disadvantaged children and members of minority groups whose real civil rights he has neglected and, in some cases, actively violated.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the governor’s partner in careless rhetoric, also has made the “civil right” claim about vouchers. I don’t know if he did at the rally, but he nevertheless waxed hypocritical, as he often does, before the crowd.

Taking public tax dollars from public schools to spend on private school vouchers for a handful of selected children is no one’s civil right by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, private school vouchers were widely promoted in response to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954, as a way to circumvent the Supreme Court’s desegregation order and continue violating the civil rights of African American students.

The Texas Constitution says nothing about vouchers and doesn’t promote private schools. It also prohibits the expenditure of state funds on religious institutions, and many private schools have religious affiliations.

The Texas Constitution, however, does require the Legislature to provide for a system of free public schools, a responsibility – call it a real civil right — on which the governor and the legislative majority have woefully under-performed by putting a priority on tax cuts and privatization over adequate school funding.

Abbott’s false claim about a “civil right” to school privatization was even more galling in light of his failed record on some important – and authentic — civil rights to which his constituents are entitled.

Disadvantaged, vulnerable kids in foster homes are entitled to the state’s best efforts to assure their safety and well-being. Abbott, Patrick and the legislative majority are miserably failing their responsibility to these children and have been for a long time. Abbott is outraged when children die from abuse and neglect, and he says he wants to do better. But so far he and legislators haven’t devoted enough resources to help Child Protective Services do the job it must do.

Voting also is a basic civil right that Abbott and Patrick have violated for thousands of Texans, primarily minority and elderly people, by supporting an oppressive voter ID law that was expressly designed to discourage Democratic-leaning voters from going to the polls. Their claim about fighting voter “fraud” is a pretense, which Abbott has all but admitted.

In an interview on Fox News this week, Abbott said he prosecuted about 50 cases of alleged voter fraud during eight years as attorney general — 50 cases out of millions of votes cast during his tenure. His claims of widespread voter fraud are “alternative facts” that have been given a “pants on fire” rating by Politifact.

Patrick told the pro-voucher rally that blocking a vote on a voucher bill was “blocking the future of that child, of that family, of that American dream.”

The claim was untrue and, coming from Patrick, hypocritical. Patrick has made a political career of blocking or jeopardizing the futures of countless Texas children with his war on public schools, including votes to cut school funding.

Bottom line: Don’t believe everything you hear at a pro-voucher rally, especially if Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick are among the head-liners.





The three-step attack on public education


The A-F grading system and the STAAR testing regime on which the new grading system is heavily based are part of an anti-public school attack that privatization proponents, led by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick with an assist from Gov. Greg Abbott, are trying to advance during this legislative session. Yesterday’s pro-voucher rally at the Capitol also was part of the effort.

The plan, which has been building for a number of years, is designed to sell school privatization to a largely unsuspecting public. It has three major steps – under-fund public schools, declare them failures and then privatize them. Here is how it has been carried out so far:

# Under-fund public schools: This part began years ago and picked up steam in 2011, when the legislative majority slashed $5.4 billion from the public education budget. Many school districts still haven’t completely recovered.

That means thousands of school children still are being taught in overcrowded, under-equipped classrooms, a condition of particular, critical concern for children who need extra individual attention from their teachers. These include many children from low-income families who now make up a majority (about 60 percent) of Texas’ public school enrollment.

Closely related to the under-funding of public schools is Texas’ under-funding of health care and nutritional services for low-income children. Sick, ill-fed children have higher rates of absenteeism and do not do well in school when they are there. Educators deal heroically with these issues every day, but they and the schools in which they work are held “accountable” by political leaders for the problems these children bring with them to the classroom.

# Declare public schools failures: This is where STAAR testing and the A-F grading system come in. STAAR is a punitive testing regime that was enacted by politicians to transfer blame for their own failed responsibility over public education to the educators and school children, beginning with third-graders, they have been failing.

STAAR tests and all the preparation for them steal valuable instruction time from teachers and school kids, while doing little, if anything, to teach children the critical thinking and learning skills so crucial to their future success.

Similarly, if it isn’t repealed, the A-F grading system will do nothing to help students. Beginning with the 2017-18 school year, a campus will be assigned a letter grade based on STAAR test scores and other factors, including graduation and dropout rates. All these factors are heavily affected by poverty, which is why schools in low-income communities got more Ds and Fs in the Texas Education Agency’s recent dry run of the testing system.

Slapping a D or an F on a school in a low-income community won’t help the students, but it will stigmatize them. And it will make it easier for Patrick and other privateers to promote vouchers or target that school for takeover by a privately run, corporate charter eager to rake in its tax dollars. Patrick already is practicing his pitch. “No parent should be forced to send their child to a school that’s a D or an F or a C,” he said in a recent speech to other privatization advocates.

# Privatize public schools: Vouchers, education savings accounts, tax credit scholarships or whatever else privateers want to call them are the next step. They would take money from already under-funded public schools to benefit private schools or homeschoolers – with no guarantee of educational success – while further eroding support for traditional public schools.

Expansion of corporate charters and private online learning also are part of this step. Academic research has shown that private and corporate charter schools, on average, don’t perform any better than traditional, or neighborhood, public schools, and they lack the accountability to taxpayers that public schools have.

Don’t be misled by pleas for school or parental “choice.” Low-income and lower-middle-income families wouldn’t have a choice because, even with a voucher or education savings account, they couldn’t afford tuition at the best private schools.

Most kids would remain in public schools, which would continue to be unfairly and inaccurately attacked as “failures” by the same politicians who persist in trying to turn public education into a profit center, a profit center for anyone but school children.



School spending shouldn’t be a political inconvenience


The biggest single expenditure of state government is education. It costs a lot of money to provide, operate and support classes for more than 5.2 million public school children whose numbers are increasing by about 80,000 kids per year.

Most people think what taxpayers spend on public schools is a great investment in our state’s future. Some of our state “leaders,” though, seem to regard it as more of a political inconvenience, which is a major reason why Texas spends about $2,700 less each year to educate a child than the national average.

Educators hope to improve on that effort during this legislative session, but proof of how tough a fight it will be emerged this week when House and Senate budget leaders presented their initial spending proposals for the upcoming two years.

The House’s version offered at least some optimism for educators, students and families, but the Senate’s draft was awful, putting a less-government, less-education ideological mentality over the real-life needs of school children.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his Senate budget team proposed spending enough money on public education only to cover enrollment growth, and much of that amount will not come from state funds but from local school tax dollars.

This means the Senate plan would not cover budgetary shortfalls that many school districts are still suffering from the $5.4 billion in education budget cuts imposed by the legislative majority six years ago. And it would plunge Texas even farther down the lower rung of states in its financial commitment to public school children.

Moreover, Patrick will try to worsen the damage by once again promoting a raid on education tax dollars for private school vouchers and other privatization schemes that would benefit a handful of students at the expense of the vast majority. (Remember this when Patrick pontificates how about much he “cares” about school children at the pro-voucher, pro-privatization school “choice” rally at the Capitol next week.)

Over in the House, Speaker Joe Straus and his budget team also have proposed a conservative spending plan, but it would increase public education funding by $1.5 billion above what is necessary to cover enrollment growth, provided the Legislature makes some long-overdue changes in the school finance system.

This is not as much money as students need, but it is a start in the right direction and signals that Straus is serious about beginning the job of drafting a fairer and more adequate school funding system. The House plan also may prompt lawmakers to dip into the Rainy Day Fund, a state savings account nearing $12 billion, to more adequately fund education, health care and other critical needs.

The final budget will be written this spring after much debate, negotiation and posturing. But the process begins with an ideological mindset on the part of the Senate leadership versus a more realistic view from the House that school kids are more important than ideology.