Month: <span>January 2017</span>

Dan Patrick doubles down on STAAR testing, A-F


Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is consistent – consistently wrong on education policy and consistently refusing to admit it. Yesterday, he doubled down on his support for STAAR testing when, in an interview with the Texas Tribune, he reaffirmed his support for the new A-F grading system for public schools.

Because campus grades largely will be determined by STAAR scores, this will increase STAAR stress even more for kids, beginning with third-graders, a serious concern for parents and educators to whom Patrick remains oblivious.

School board members, superintendents, principals, teachers, parents and other people who actually know something about education are united in their opposition to the letter grading system because they know it will do absolutely nothing to improve public schools.

Instead, it simply will stigmatize low-income children, who likely will be tagged with the most Ds and Fs, if we can’t persuade the Legislature to repeal the law before it goes into effect next fall. Texas’ entire public education system is under-funded, but low-income and special-needs children are particularly ill-served by Patrick and a legislative majority that would rather punish and label kids as failures than own up to their own failure to adequately and fairly fund all the public schools.

“Anyone who thinks in the education community that…that system is going away – not going away,” Patrick said in his Tribune interview.

Fortunately, the legislative process is still a democracy, and Patrick doesn’t have to have the final say. Had it up to here with STAAR? Then tell you own legislators. Here is how to find your individual state senators and state representatives and how to contact them. Click on this link and fill in your home address:



Time for educators to fight back


Elections have consequences, folks, and beginning this week Texas educators are going to get a preview of what some of these consequences may be for their jobs, their students and their students’ families. And you are not going to like what you see coming from either Austin or Washington.

So, it is time to start pushing back.

The new session of the Texas Legislature convened today in Austin, where public education, educators and students remain under attack. Even though schools are woefully under-funded, the legislative majority, egged on by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, will consider spending as much as $3 billion of local school tax revenue for other state programs and stealing from what’s left of the public education budget for private school vouchers.

Your state legislators need to hear from you – early and often:

# Demand that they reject vouchers and other privatization schemes, including education savings accounts.

# Demand that they spend your local school tax dollars on what you paid them for – education.

# Demand that they dip into the state’s Rainy Day Fund to increase school funding. This savings account is for emergencies, and school funding is an emergency. The fund was not approved by Texas voters to be hoarded by ideologically driven state leaders who are intent on reducing government, beginning with education. The Rainy Day Fund’s balance is approaching $12 billion, a definite bright spot in an economy and revenue stream recovering from the recent plunge in oil prices.

# Demand that your legislators abolish or significantly cut back on the STAAR testing regime, which continues to unnecessarily stress our children and rob them of valuable learning time.

# Demand that they repeal the A-F school grading system, which will put more stress on STAAR testing and do absolutely nothing to improve public education.

As the session unfolds, TSTA will alert you to more issues as well as developments in these. To learn who your state representative and state senator are and how to contact them, click on this link and enter your home address. Then contact them:

Meanwhile, any educator who took a gamble on Donald Trump for president rolled the dice for an all-out attack from Washington on public schools, and the person who will lead the charge is Trump’s choice for education secretary, Betsy DeVos. A billionaire member of the Amway family, DeVos has no experience in public education (not even as a student) and knows nothing about it, but she has been spending a lot of time and money trying to dismantle and privatize it.

In her home state of Michigan, DeVos fought to undermine public schools with tax cuts for the wealthy. She also advocated for vouchers to divert tax dollars from public education so private schools and for-profit charters could profit off taxpayers with little or no accountability. Now, DeVos and Trump want to wage their campaign across the nation.

DeVos’ Senate confirmation hearing is scheduled for next week. If she wins committee approval, the full Senate is expected to vote on her confirmation within a few weeks. Tell Texas’ two U.S. senators – John Cornyn and Ted Cruz — that you oppose DeVos’ confirmation and why.

It will take time for election consequences to play out, so educators still have opportunities to make a difference – but only if we speak up and demand that lawmakers listen.






School taxpayers may end up subsidizing another tax cut for businesses


If Gov. Greg Abbott has his way, many Texas homeowners soon may see part of their school property taxes be used to subsidize another tax cut for businesses. It would be the second tax reduction for businesses in two years even as school taxes continue to increase, despite a minor property tax break approved during the 2015 legislative session.

If you think your school taxes are spent only to support public schools, you should learn about a feature of the state’s school finance law that has been getting some media attention on the eve of the new legislative session. Tied to complicated school finance formulas, this feature provides that the state’s share of paying for public education decreases as local school property tax values rise.

As you know, your home and other taxable property values have been increasing, causing your school tax bills to increase even if your local school board doesn’t raise your tax rate. Statewide, property values have been increasing so much that the Legislature will see a reduction of about $2 billion in the amount of money it is required to pay for public schools during the next two-year budget period.

Legislators could change the law and keep paying the $2 billion – or more. But early signs indicate the governor and the legislative majority don’t plan to do that. Instead, they will spend the “windfall” on other programs, maybe even to help cover Gov. Abbott’s priority — another reduction in business taxes.

Two years ago, the Legislature approved and Abbott signed a bill that cut the business franchise tax by 25 percent across-the-board, resulting in the biennial loss of $2.6 billion in revenue for education and other state needs at a time when schools already were – and still are – under-funded.

In 2015, the Legislature and voters also approved a constitutional amendment that increased the homestead exemption on school property taxes. Collectively, it was worth $1.2 billion during the recent budget period but only about $125 for the average homeowner. Since then, rising property values have more than wiped out that savings.

Now, the governor thinks those tax reductions, particularly for business, weren’t enough.

“I want to see (more) tax cuts,” he said in an interview with reporters last month. Specifically, according to the Houston Chronicle, he said he would like to see the business franchise tax and the energy margins tax reduced “by as much as I can get.”

Or, did he mean by as much as school property taxpayers can provide?



How the state abuses school property taxpayers


The so-called Robin Hood law served an important purpose when it was enacted in 1993. By requiring property wealthy school districts to share tax revenue with poorer districts, it helped satisfy a Texas Supreme Court order to provide more equity in school funding between children in rich and poor schools.

Robin Hood still serves that purpose. But it is being abused by the governor and the legislative majority, who are sticking it to local taxpayers to pay for the state’s failure to adequately fund our children’s schools. Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz pointed out that fact, but more politely, in a letter to district taxpayers at the beginning of the holiday break.

Cruz laid out the numbers and let them speak for themselves. Even though more than half of Austin ISD’s students are from low-income families, the district is considered wealthy by Robin Hood standards, thanks to rising property values.

Local taxpayers will pay more than $1 billion to Austin ISD this year, but the district will keep less than $700 million of it. The district will pay an estimated $406 million of the tax revenue it collects from local property owners to the state of Texas and will receive only $37 million in state funding in return. In other words, Cruz pointed out, Austin ISD will send more than 10 times as much money to the state this year as it will receive in state funding.

If the school finance law isn’t changed, Cruz predicted that within two years more than half of local property tax revenue collected in the district will be sent to the state.

Austin ISD is the single largest contributor to recapture, the technical term for the Robin Hood payments, which are distributed by the state. Another 250-plus districts also make Robin Hood payments, which are an important source of revenue for property poor districts.

But the legislative majority is misusing the law to pass the buck – very big bucks, actually — to local taxpayers and duck its own own responsibility to school children. According to the Legislative Budget Board, local property tax revenue, including the Robin Hood payments, have increased by 44 percent since 2008. Robin Hood payments alone this year will total more than $2 billion.

The amount of state revenue spent on schools, meanwhile, has increased by only 7 percent since 2008.

What’s more, under the current school finance law, the state’s share of paying for public education decreases as local school property tax values increase. That will give legislators about $2 billion extra to spend during the next budget period on other state programs. It means local property owners – in Austin and throughout the state — who think all their school tax dollars are going to education are, in effect, helping to subsidize health care, the governor’s and legislators’ salaries and expense accounts – and even the next cut in business taxes.

Remember that the next time the governor, the lieutenant governor or your “fiscally conservative,” pro-voucher state representative or senator tells you how “concerned” he or she is about your property tax load.