Month: <span>April 2017</span>

Education, not fear and discrimination, will determine Texas’ future


The president can try to wall off the southern border, the legislative majority can continue depriving minority Texans of their right to vote and the same lawmakers can wax xenophobic over a dozen more bills to outlaw “sanctuary cities,” but one eventuality will remain true and unstoppable.

Within the next generation, the majority of Texans will not look nor think like the president or the majority of today’s legislators. By the middle of this century, most Texans will be Hispanic. The Texas Hispanic population is younger and growing at a faster pace than the non-Hispanic population, and, the debate over immigration to the contrary, most Hispanics in Texas are U.S. citizens. Moreover, the politicians who today are responding to fear and racism in their futile effort to delay the future will be either forgotten or footnotes of derision in history books that will be written by authors who do not look nor think like them.

The fear and discrimination generated by immigration crackdowns and a voter ID law and political district maps that have been declared unconstitutional by federal courts are bad enough. But maybe even worse is what the legislative majority and recent Texas governors have not been doing. They have not been preparing our state – a state in which our children and grandchildren will live – for the same prosperity that most of us, including our political class, has enjoyed.

The key to that future is our public education system, where the majority enrollment already is Hispanic and low-income. That education system remains woefully under-funded and, even under the best scenario, will remain under-funded after the current legislative session ends, casting a lengthening shadow on that rapidly approaching future.

Instead of helping thousands of immigrant children in their neighborhood public schools better prepare themselves for tomorrow, many legislators would rather threaten them with a heightened sense of insecurity over such basic concerns as whether a nine-year-old’s parents will be there when she returns home from school.

Calling that a blow for “national security” is baloney.

Steve Murdock is a former state demographer under Gov. Rick Perry and former U.S. Census Bureau director under President George W. Bush. He has a clearer vision of Texas’ future than any other human, and he has warned repeatedly that our state leaders aren’t preparing for it.

In a series of books and lectures, Murdock has told anyone who will listen that if state government continues to neglect public education funding the Texas economy will be poorer and less competitive by mid-century — and not because the population will be majority Hispanic. It will be because that population won’t be adequately educated. And a sluggish economy will affect the employment and lifestyle prospects of all Texans – regardless of race, ethnicity or political persuasion. Many undoubtedly will have to move elsewhere.

The key to the future begins with education, and that future could be successful, but not as long as the legislative majority continues to waste time neglecting schools in favor of playing to fear and discrimination.





Texas proud starts with public schools


If nothing else, Texas legislators are champions of hyperbole and proponents of Texas “exceptionalism.” But Sen. Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, the Senate’s chief budget writer, was mainly corny when she predicted the new state budget “will make Texas proud.”

Aw, shucks.

What actually will happen if Nelson and her Senate colleagues have their way with the education portion of the budget is that many Texans will be angry that their public schools remain under-funded while their local school property taxes continue to rise.

Nelson is one of ten legislators (five from the Senate and five from the House) who will spend the next few weeks trying to hammer out a new, two-year state budget, a compromise between the two versions already approved by each legislative chamber. One of the major differences is on public education.

The Senate has approved a budget that likely would have the effect of reducing state education funding even more, when inflation and enrollment growth – about 80,000 to 85,000 additional students each year – are considered. That would mean the burden on homeowners and other property owners, who already pay for more than half of public education costs, would continue to grow.

The House would increase the state’s share of public school funding by about $1.6 billion by tapping into the Rainy Day Fund, a state savings account that has swelled to almost $12 billion. The House also has approved a separate bill that would begin overhauling the inadequate and outdated school finance system, a reality that the Senate leadership so far chooses to ignore.

The House bill doesn’t provide for a long-term solution to education funding, but it represents a start toward fulfilling the state’s constitutional responsibility to adequately support its public education system.

The House leadership recognizes that public school funding has become an emergency, something that the Rainy Day Fund was established to address. The Senate leadership believes its only “emergency” is to please a loud chorus of ideologues intent on shrinking government, beginning with education.

If legislators really want to make Texans proud and Texas exceptional, they will take the House’s budget lead this session and begin restoring and improving the financial foundation of Texas public schools.



Denying the attack on public education


Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick continues to peddle the political fiction that his anti-public education priorities are somehow benefiting school children AND protecting taxpayers. Although ideological true-believers in his political base may swallow that garbage without gagging, the exact opposite is true.

If Patrick has his way in the war of wills with the House over budget and education policy, public schools will remain woefully under-funded and many homeowners will continue to see their school property taxes increase.

In a recent political email, Patrick bragged: “We’re reminded that Texas is a conservative model for the nation, where we are working every day to keep taxes and regulation low and our government lean and efficient. During this legislative session, I am fighting to uphold our conservative values by passing a fiscally responsible state budget, lowering property taxes for all Texans and reducing the franchise tax.”

If Texas is a “conservative model” for the nation, heaven help the nation. Patrick and his allies are working to keep state government lean, mean (in the hurtful sense of the word) and very inefficient by passing an irresponsible state budget that will keep thousands of school classrooms overcrowded, thousands of teachers and other school employees under-paid and hundreds of thousands of school kids with little or no health care.

Should Patrick prevail, who knows how many foster children in state care would remain at risk, despite all the political hand-wringing over deaths and vulnerabilities in the under-funded Child Protective Services system.

Homeowners and others who pay school property taxes – which already pay for most public school costs in Texas – would see their local taxes continue to rise, not drop, without a greater state investment in public education, which Patrick opposes.

The lieutenant governor and his Senate allies even refuse to tap into the Rainy Day Fund. That’s a $12 billion mountain of taxpayer money that Patrick wants to sit on ala King Midas or Uncle Scrooge.

The only bit of truth in Patrick’s statement quoted above was in the last four words, the part about his effort to make future cuts in the business franchise tax. That’s true but potentially disastrous because if that happens, the funding dilemma for school districts and the tax burden for local property owners will worsen.



Retired educators need more than kind words and fond memories


For school teachers and especially for education retirees, legislative talk can be cheap, very cheap. And with every “teacher appreciation” resolution in the House or the Senate and every “fond” memory a lawmaker shares about a “favorite” teacher, the legislative debt to educators just grows deeper.

The fact that most active teachers in Texas are woefully underpaid is bad enough, but the plight of thousands of school retirees is even worse. For some, it will become downright treacherous and life-threatening if the Legislature doesn’t do something this session to save their health care coverage without bankrupting the retirees.

As the Houston Chronicle pointed out in an editorial, linked below, the school retirees’ health care plan, TRS-Care, “is going to fail without legislative action” and the “impact on retired educators will be severe.” So far, there is no real legislative fix in sight this session, and the clock is ticking.

In the Senate, Sen . Joan Huffman of Houston is sponsoring SB788, which supposedly would address the problem, but not really. This is the same Sen. Huffman who also is sponsoring SB13, a separate bill aimed at crippling teacher and other public employee advocacy organizations.

Huffman’s SB788, the TRS-Care bill, is what the Chronicle editorial calls “a disingenuous half measure that will barely keep the plan alive while devastating the financial condition of some retired teachers, or worse, leaving many without any health care at all.”

Huffman’s bill would increase state funding by about $300 million, far short of the $1 billion shortfall that TRS-Care is facing. Under her plan, the deductible for an individual retiree would jump from about $400 to $4,000. Keep in mind the average retired teacher receives only about $2,035 a month in retirement benefits. Most retired teachers don’t receive Social Security, and many aren’t old enough to get Medicare.

SB788 is not a fix for what is rapidly becoming a crisis.

Texas’ 262,000 retired teachers spent much of their adult lives securing Texas’ future with barely adequate – or worse – pay. They are entitled to a secure health care system, and there is more than enough money – about $12 billion– in the state’s Rainy Day Fund to keep TRS-Care solvent and increase funding for public schools. Both are critical issues the Legislature has persisted in putting off.

Many of us have stories to tell about favorite teachers, and legislators are no exception. But unlike most of us, legislators are in a position to provide a secure retirement for educators. Fond memories and congratulatory resolutions don’t pay medical bills.