Month: <span>March 2017</span>

Kids take STAAR; Senate bleeds schools


It was coincidental, I guess, that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick rammed his education-squeezing version of a state budget through the Senate on the same day that Texas school kids began taking the stress-producing, money-wasting STAAR exams. Whatever the eventual STAAR outcomes, the children and their teachers will end up doing their jobs a lot better than Patrick and most of the senators did theirs.

The Senate budget is shameful. At Patrick’s behest, the Senate essentially took an extra $1.8 billion from local property taxpayers and did little more to address the needs of under-funded school districts that are growing, collectively, by 80,000 to 85,000 new students every school year. Senators left about $12 billion of taxpayer money sitting unspent in the Rainy Day Fund, because Patrick would rather brag about being tight-fisted than increase resources to improve educational  opportunities for 5.3 million school children – or improve health care or other public services.

The next chapter in Patrick’s attack on public education will be Senate action on his pet bill to drain more funding from public schools for private school vouchers.

Fortunately, the next step in the budget process is the House, where the leadership actually wants to govern and believes the emergency facing public schools requires tapping into the Rainy Day Fund. The final version of the budget will be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee, either later this spring or in a special legislative session in the summer.

Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, the official sponsor of Patrick’s budget, noted during the budget debate that the “most important function of this Legislature…is to educate our children.”

But does she really believe that? You couldn’t prove it by her budget.

Nelson also criticized previous legislative sessions for putting “band-aid after band-aid after band-aid” on the school finance system without doing much to improve it. She was mostly correct about the band-aids, but at least her predecessors were putting the band-aids on. She and Patrick are removing the band-aids, and schools are bleeding.

An “education evangelist” out to destroy public education


You may not recall this, but Dan Patrick once referred to himself as an “education evangelist.” Yes, that Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor whose educational track record so far this session includes three potential body blows to Texas’ public education system.

First, he proposes a state budget that would continue to underfund public schools. Then, he advocates for a private school voucher bill to take more money from public schools now. And, finally, he trots out a bill to drain even more money from schools for years to come.

Education evangelist? I think not.

The voucher bill was heard by the Senate Education Committee Tuesday, and TSTA President Noel Candelaria joined many other public education advocates presenting common-sense arguments against it. A committee vote was postponed.

But Patrick’s long-term plan to starve public education – and a host of other important state services – was approved the same day by the full Senate, 23-7. This measure, Senate Bill 17 by Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson, would gradually reduce the state’s franchise tax, an important source of state revenue for schools and other programs. This tax was enacted by the Legislature in 2006 to partially replace school revenue lost when lawmakers ordered cuts in local property taxes.

The legislative majority already reduced the franchise tax by one-fourth two years ago. Senate Bill 17 would not cut the tax again this year, but it would keep reducing it in the future, whenever state revenue grew beyond a certain rate. Instead of having that extra revenue to play catch up on school funding, the legislation would keep the squeeze on public schools.

Fotunately, Patrick and his Senate allies won’t necessarily have the final say. They have to convince a majority of the House to approve their ideological recipe for disaster, and the House will offer some resistance. Perhaps it will offer a lot of resistance, but only if educators and parents who value their neighborhood schools keep contacting their state representatives and demanding a realistic approach to lawmaking.

Urge your state representatives to spend part of the $12 billion Rainy Day Fund to improve school funding now. And ask them to vote against Senate Bill 3, the voucher bill, and against Senate Bill 17, a tax cut that the future of Texas cannot afford. If you don’t know who your state representative is, click on the following link, fill in your home address. Then under district type, click on House. It will tell you who your state representative is and how to contact him or her.

In an interview with the Associated Press in 2013, when he was still a state senator, Patrick said: “You do become a little bit of an education evangelist because you know this works and you know we must do all we can to make sure every student has an opportunity.”

This was two years after Patrick voted to slash $5.4 billion from public schools, and it was the same year he voted against the entire state budget, including all funding for education, border security and every other state program and service. He didn’t know what students need then, and he doesn’t now.



Michigan takes steps to junk A-F grades for schools


While educators continue pushing back against the A-F grading system for public schools in Texas, top education officials in Michigan are moving to drop plans to impose an A-F grading system there. One reason is fear it would increase the stakes of standardized testing and promote more teaching to the test.

Sound familiar?

Leading the attack against A-F in Michigan are State Board of Education member Tom McMillin and State Education Superintendent Brian Whiston. Whiston had intended to develop an A-F grading system but, unless overridden by the Michigan Legislature, now intends to issue “dashboard” style scorecards that instead of letter grades will include data on graduation rates and other factors in addition to student test scores. The Michigan State Board of Education unanimously opposes A-F.

“A to F just increases the high-stakes nature of the one (standardized) exam, and it’s more teaching to the test,” said McMillin. According to the Associated Press, he said A-F would do “more damage than good” and would force schools to deemphasize creativity classes such as music and art.

Educators applauded the decision against A-F in Michigan, but it was criticized by at least one charter school advocate.

Unlike in Michigan, any repeal of the A-F system in Texas will have to come from the Legislature, which enacted the system in 2015. Unless changed or repealed, it is to go into effect next fall.

TSTA and other public education advocates oppose assigning letter grades to schools because they would primarily stigmatize children from low-income neighborhoods while doing absolutely nothing to improve their educations. And letter grades would increase the high-stakes pressure of the STAAR tests on educators and students because, as the Texas law is currently written, most of the A-F grading will be based on test scores.

During a dry run test of the A-F system earlier this year, schools in low-income neighborhoods received a disproportionate number of “F” scores.

Both House Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty and Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor have filed legislation to revise Texas’ A-F law, reportedly to meet educators’ concerns by reducing the impact of test scores. TSTA will be following their legislation closely.


Vouchers offer neither reform nor choice


Two of the most abused words in the political debate over education are “reform” and “choice.” School privatization advocates – and some members of the news media — frequently apply these terms to vouchers, which offer neither “reform” nor “choice.”

Here’s why.

The dominant word in dictionary definitions of “reform” is “improve” or some version of the word. As a verb, reform is defined as an action “to put or change into an improved form or condition,” or to “make changes in something, typically a social, political or economic institution or practice, in order to improve it.”

The dominant synonym for the noun form of reform is “improvement.”

Vouchers by any name — including education savings accounts and tax credit scholarships – will not improve public education in Texas. You don’t improve under-funded public schools by taking tax dollars from them so a select group of parents can spend that public money on their kids’ private school tuition or use it to buy new computers if they home-school their children – all without any accountability to taxpayers.

Meanwhile, the neighborhood public schools where the vast majority of children will continue to be educated will have less resources with which to do their jobs. Statewide, those schools stand to lose as much as $2 billion a year if Senate Bill 3, the voucher proposal that will be heard by the Senate Education Committee on Thursday, becomes law, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Only a deliberate political misuse of the word would call that an “improvement.”

Moreover, voucher-paid educations in private schools do not guarantee improved academic results for participants. Recent studies have documented significant declines in academic achievement among voucher students in Louisiana, Ohio and Indiana. Earlier studies of voucher programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington, D.C, found little or no difference in outcomes between voucher and public school students.

The myth that vouchers offer parents a “choice” also ignores a few facts.

One, private schools establish and enforce their own admission standards and choose their students accordingly. That means the schools, not the parents or the students, make the final choices on which students are admitted, and vouchers will not change that practice.

Public schools accept all students, including those with limited English proficiency, disabilities and other special needs. Many private schools do not. And public schools offer a wider array of course choices for students than most private schools.

Finally, the best private schools charge much higher tuition than the proposed voucher payments being discussed by legislative advocates in Texas. Unlike public schools, many private schools don’t provide transportation for students either and don’t have to provide books or meal service. That means the real cost of attending a private school can be much higher than the cost of tuition alone, pricing most students from low and middle-income families out of the best private schools.

The real financial benefit would go to wealthier families, many of whom already can afford private schools without taxpayer help. This isn’t real choice, and it isn’t reform either.