Month: <span>April 2017</span>

Attorney general joins the attack on educators


Attorney General Ken Paxton, who went to court to defend Texas’ very bad school finance system, is still attacking educators. He is doing so, I suspect, to try to keep himself relevant to right-wingers – his political base — as he awaits trial on securities fraud charges.

Although Paxton’s personal legal troubles have been keeping his lawyers busy, the attorney general found time to weigh in on the issue of whether teachers and other public employees should have the freedom to spend their own money as they please, by deducting their association or union dues from their paychecks, at no cost to taxpayers.

Paxton agrees with Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that the long-standing practice should be stopped and has as much trouble telling the truth about the issue as Abbott and Patrick do.

Paxton’s name is on an oped, published in The Dallas Morning News, filled with errors and misrepresentations about the dues deduction issue.

“Protecting workers’ rights is one of the government’s most important jobs,” Paxton says in the first sentence. Then he spends the rest of the article defending the state leadership’s efforts to undercut workers’ rights.

Here are a few of his misrepresentations:

Paxton: Public employee unions “spend millions of dollars on partisan activities.”

The truth: Membership dues in TSTA and other public employee unions and associations in Texas are NOT spent on partisan political activities. Membership dues in TSTA and other organizations are spent on professional development, liability insurance and other job-related services. Political activities are conducted by political action committees, which are funded by separate, voluntary contributions, not dues money.

Paxton: “The Supreme Court has ruled that workers cannot be forced to make political donations.”

The truth: TSTA and other unions DON’T force members to pay dues or make political donations. Again, both dues payments and political donations to PACs are voluntary.

Paxton:  Public employees must “opt in if they want to contribute to a union.”

The truth: Workers already opt in if they want to join TSTA or another employee organization or union. If they wish, they also voluntarily choose to have their membership dues automatically deducted from their paychecks.  This is the practice that Senate Bill 13 – supported by Paxton, Patrick and Abbott – would discontinue for most public employees.

Paxton: Quotes  Abbott, “Taxpayer money shouldn’t be used to support the collection of union dues.” Patrick also has claimed dues deductions cost taxpayers money.

The truth: Employees’ dues deductions essentially cost governments nothing,  according to the author of SB13, and a fiscal note that says the bill would provide no cost savings. And if there were any costs, current law would require unions and employee associations to reimburse school districts and other governments for any administrative costs.

Another truth: Automatic dues deduction is a secure and convenient way for educators and other public employees to pay membership dues to the organizations of their choice. Abbott, Patrick, Paxton and their allies are trying to punish educators and other employees for opposing bad legislation, including a bill to siphon tax dollars from public education for private school vouchers.

SB13, which has been approved by the Senate and is before the House, would let police, firefighters and EMS workers continue to have membership dues in their unions voluntarily deducted by their government employers.

Why? Because these groups are perceived as more politically friendly to the Abbotts, Patricks and Paxtons. That may be, but these employee unions also are fighting SB13 because they know this is an effort to single out employees for political punishment and they could be next.




Dan Patrick disrespects educators, then misleads public


It is bad enough when an elected policymaker promotes a bad policy. It is worse when an elected policymaker promotes a bad policy and then tries to mislead the public with, shall we say, “alternative facts” about it. (I am trying to be semi-polite here.)

Misleading the public is an everyday occurrence in the political realm (a major reason we now have a tweeter-in-chief in the White House). But this time I am talking – again — about Dan Patrick, and if you think I write too much about Dan Patrick, take your complaints to Dan. He gets a lot of my attention while the Legislature is in session because he is full of awful policy ideas to undermine public education, weaken educators’ livelihoods and smother children’s learning opportunities.

As you may already know, one of Patrick’s pet bills this session is Senate Bill 13, which is designed to punish educators and most other public employees who voluntarily choose to join unions and other professional associations, such as TSTA. The bill includes educators because they and their employee organizations have historicilly fought – and still are fighting – Patrick’s long-sought effort to take tax dollars from public schools for private school vouchers.

SB13, approved by the Senate last week, would repeal the long-time ability of TSTA members and members of most other employee organizations to voluntarily choose to have their membership dues automatically deducted from their paychecks by their government employers. It’s a secure and convenient way for busy government workers to pay membership dues in the organizations of their choice, in the same way as many government workers make charitable contributions.

Even the main sponsor of the bill, Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston, has admitted the practice costs taxpayers nothing. And, if it did, current law would require TSTA and other unions and associations to reimburse school districts and other governments for any administrative costs. The fiscal note on SB13 is negligible.

But Patrick refused to acknowledge the lack of cost in his weekly political email, in which he touted Senate approval of the bill and bragged about some of his other efforts to drag Texas back into the 19th century.

“It is clearly not the role of government to collect union dues, and certainly not at taxpayer expense,” he wrote.  (The bold type is mine. The “alternative fact” is Patrick’s.)

Patrick also ignores the real fact that police, firefighters and EMS personnel are exempt from the bill. That means they can continue to have membership dues in their unions voluntarily deducted by their government employers.

Why? Probably because Patrick perceives them as more politically friendly and chooses to pick winners and losers among public employees. To their credit, though, police and fire unions also are fighting SB13.

The fate of SB13 now rests with the House, most of whose members, I hope, have more respect for teachers, school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, correctional officers and other public employees than Patrick and Huffman do.




Senate did NOT protect any taxpayers from voucher bill


Sen. Charles Perry of Lubbock may think he fooled his constituents when he voted for a private school voucher bill that they don’t like. But the only person he may have outfoxed was himself.

Perry admitted that the voucher bill, Senate Bill 3, isn’t popular with rural residents of his district because they don’t see much benefit in taking tax dollars from their under-funded public schools so a small number of families somewhere else can spend that money with little accountability on private school tuition for their kids.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why. There aren’t many private schools for students in the Lubbock and surrounding rural area to attend, and transportation would be a problem. But bowing to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick over the preferences of his constituents, Perry voted for the bill anyway when it won Senate approval last week.

In an effort to provide himself some political cover, though, Perry agreed to support the bill only after it had been amended to prohibit students in counties with fewer than 285,000 residents from receiving vouchers. To make sure that Lubbock fell into the excluded rural category, Perry saw to it that the population count was based on the 2010 census, not the latest population estimates, because Lubbock has been growing.

By adopting this amendment, Perry claimed, he was sparing his constituents from a program they didn’t like. But guess what?

The amendment that keeps rural students from receiving vouchers won’t protect their parents and other rural taxpayers from paying taxes to send other people’s children to private schools in faraway Houston, Dallas or San Antonio, if the House also approves the voucher bill. State tax dollars from rural counties would pay for vouchers, just as tax dollars from cities would.

Perry’s constituents still will have to pay for a program they don’t want, even if their children can’t participate in it. And school funding for vouchers would be siphoned from Lubbock ISD and other rural districts as well as from urban and suburban districts throughout Texas.

“From a rural perspective, we don’t see a whole lot of benefit in it (a voucher program),” Perry admitted in an interview with the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

But he voted for it anyway.

What’s more, according to TSTA’s recent bipartisan poll, most urban and suburban voters of both parties don’t see much benefit in a voucher program either.

Let us hope House members do a better job of representing their constituents on the voucher bill – and bury it – than Perry and most of his Senate colleagues did.