Month: <span>February 2017</span>

Educators need to make themselves understood – to everyone


For a moment, while listening to a news report on an Austin radio station, I thought members of the Austin ISD school board may have been discussing a skin disease or an outbreak of head lice in district classrooms. Or maybe there was a new medical test I hadn’t heard about – or a new standardized test.

I should have known though that these board members, like many other education insiders, were speaking in education gobbledygook. They were practicing still another piece of insider jargon.

The non-word they were tossing around was “eco-dis.” I am guessing it includes a hyphen. The reporter, to her credit, explained they were using the term to discuss economically disadvantaged students, children from low-income families who now account for more than half of Austin ISD’s enrollment and Texas’ total public school enrollment as well.

Maybe I am the last person in town to learn of the “eco-dis” shortcut, but I doubt it. Elected education policymakers, no less than language arts teachers, need to speak an understandable language. Instead, these AISD trustees were contributing to a long-time bad habit of many in the educational community to speak in insider code, in a language all their own, dominated by acronyms that mean little, if anything, to the parents and other community members with whom clear communication is essential.

My message to all educators: “Eschew obfuscation!” That means forget the alphabet soup of jargon and say clearly what you mean in plain, understandable words. One of these days in our political world, your jobs may depend on it.


If educators don’t hold legislators accountable for education policy, who will?


Few, if any, people get elected to state office in Texas without the votes of many educators. That may sound strange for a state that ranks a miserable 38th in per-student funding, but it’s true. It’s why we have a governor, a lieutenant governor and many legislators who only pretend to care about public schools and the children they serve.

Many of Texas’ 650,000 public school employees simply do not make education a priority when they cast their votes on Election Day, and that is their right. That also is the reason that many end up feeling cheated or ill-served when their classrooms remain under-funded, their students over-tested and enrollment in critical programs such as special education gets capped. It’s also why the governor and the lieutenant governor peddle the absolutely bad idea of private school vouchers while ignoring school kids’ real needs and are convinced they can get away with it.

“When will lawmakers get held accountable for their hand in this?” someone wrote this week on TSTA’s Facebook page.

That’s a good question, and the answer largely depends on educators – as well as the parents who don’t always vote in the best interests of their children’s educations either.

If you really want to start making a positive difference for public education and don’t know who your state senator and state representive are, then first things first. Click on this link, fill in your home address and under “district type” choose Senate and then House to find out who they are and how to contact them:

Then contact them. If you want more funding for your students’ or your children’s classrooms and less standardized testing, tell them. Tell them to invest some of the $12 billion in the Rainy Day Fund in our public schools. Tell them you live and vote in their districts. And if you don’t want them to spend your tax dollars on private school vouchers or education savings accounts or tax-credit scholarships (other names for vouchers), tell them that too.

If you are a TSTA member, regularly check our website and your email for legislative updates and alerts when critical votes are approaching, so you can contact your legislators again.

After the legislative session ends later this spring, and the dust settles – for good, bad or worse – on public schools, remember that next year will be an election year. TSTA will be endorsing candidates of both parties in a number of races – governor, lieutenant governor, the House and the Senate – on one issue, education, what they did or didn’t do for the educators and school children of Texas.

These records will be written in Austin over the next few months. Now, is the time for legislators to hear from educators and parents, and Election Day is the time for educators and parents to hold legislators and other state leaders accountable.




Educators and students need a shower from the Rainy Day Fund


Some lawmakers in Austin brag with every other breath about being “conservative,” when in truth they are ideologues who simply want to blow up state government and let local property owners clean up their mess with higher school, city and county taxes.

Other legislators really do have a strong sense of fiscal responsibility, a true conservative outlook that recognizes they not only are stewards of everyone’s tax dollars but also are responsible for investments in education and other services to insure Texas’ future.

An early test of the differences between these two political genres is beginning to play out at the state Capitol over a $12 billion (b as in boy) pile of money called the Economic Stabilization Fund. More commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund, it is the state’s savings account, and it has enough money to boost funding for public schools and other critical needs and preserve a cushion for the future.

Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, the new chairman of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee, is a fiscal conservative who wants to make government work. To that end, he is considering using part of the Rainy Day Fund to avoid unacceptable cuts in education and other needed services.

That could help the House pay for a $1.5 billion increase in education spending that Speaker Joe Straus has proposed to spark overdue changes in the school finance system. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Senate, meanwhile, have proposed a new state budget that would barely – maybe – cover enrollment growth in the public schools and do nothing to give educators and students the additional resources they need.

Patrick doesn’t want to talk about the Rainy Day Fund, even though the state comproller’s office has told budget-writers that the Legislature can spend part of the fund and preserve, perhaps even enhance, the state’s credit rating.

To ideologues such as Patrick, the Rainy Day Fund is a platform for right-wing bragging rights, a fat idol to be worshipped, not a nestegg to spend on important public needs. The fatter the idol gets, the more Patrick and his allies brag about shrinking government and saving taxpayers’ money. But they are not saving anybody anything.

They are hoarding $12 billion that taxpayers already have paid, while transferring a larger share of the burden for schools, etc., to local property owners. Remember this the next time Patrick pretends to sympathize with property taxpayers.–regional/will-lawmakers-tap-the-state-rainy-day-fund-battle-may-looming/O8jyWrvtpinI23iEn66YzJ/




AISD has legal and moral obligation to all students, especially during immigration crisis


While the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigrants continues to promote confusion and fear among many children of color – including many who are American citizens and lifelong Texas residents – school officials must remember all their legal and moral obligations to all their students.

A school district’s foremost legal obligation is to educate all the students who live within its boundaries, regardless of a student’s immigration status. This is the law of the land, regardless of who is tweeting from the White House, thanks to a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision. An equally important moral obligation of educators is to create safe school zones, assuring students as best they can that their schools are safe places for learning.

Members of Education Austin, TSTA’s local affiliate in Austin ISD, believe they also have a moral obligation to help inform their students of their legal rights in the event immigration officials show up at their homes or question them on the way to and from school. So, they have been providing that information to students at a number of campuses.

Now, as the Austin American-Statesman story linked below reports, some fearful AISD attorneys and principals are clamping down on the educators’ efforts to protect their students. Education Austin nevertheless vows to continue working in the best interests of students whose lives have suddenly been disrupted through no fault of their own.

As Education Austin President Ken Zarifis explained: “Students are in crisis. Where the students will turn to first outside of their household is their teacher and their school. If we don’t provide the information to them, we’re doing them a disservice.”

Sometimes, it takes courage to do the right thing.