Month: <span>July 2017</span>

Did a school voucher pay for an abortion? Yes or no, it’s still a mess


The intended consequences of vouchers – transferring state tax dollars from under-funded public schools to private schools – are bad enough, but the unintended consequences can be a political and fiscal disaster. A voucher program in Arizona is so bad and unaccountable to taxpayers that one recipient was even indicted for using her family’s voucher money to purchase a high-definition TV and pay for an abortion.

For those who might point out that Texas isn’t Arizona, I also would point out that Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick share the school privatization ideology of the Arizona leaders who created and expanded the voucher debacle in the desert.

I also would note that the voucher program in Arizona began as a program limited to families with disabled children, the same kind of legislation that Abbott wants the Legislature to enact during the special session that convenes next week. The program later was expanded in Arizona, while oversight was ignored.

And anyone who thinks oversight in Texas would be any better had better think again. The under-funded oversight of critical public programs in this state – from Child Protective Services to toll roads, data systems and other privatization schemes – has a history of failure.

The Arizona Republic articles linked below detail much of the waste and folly associated with arming families with debit cards loaded with taxpayer dollars. Arizona has even been unable or unwilling to identify which private schools are benefiting the most from the tax-paid program.

“We could have state dollars going to a school teaching 2 plus 2 equals 5, and there is nothing that we can do about it,” one critic of the program commented.

It’s a wonder apparently that the state even noticed the woman who used her voucher debit card to buy the big-screen TV, as well as a smart phone and a couple of computer tablets, from Walmart and then spend a few hundred more dollars at a family planning clinic. That led to the accusation of an abortion and an indictment for theft and fraud.

I don’t know how that case turned out, but the voucher program in Arizona is still a mess. And it’s a mess waiting to happen in Texas, unless the House – which soundly rejected vouchers on a bipartisan vote during the regular session – continues to hold its ground for public schools and taxpayers.


Abbott’s alleged teacher pay “raise” is a hoax


Texas teachers need and deserve a pay raise, which is why Gov. Greg Abbott tried to make teachers think he was going to push for an annual pay boost of $1,000 during the upcoming special legislative session. But Abbott’s alleged pay plan is a hoax, mainly because he also made it clear that he still doesn’t want the state to spend more money on education.

“Texas doesn’t need to spend more. We just need to spend smarter,” the governor told the media. “The pay increases can easily be achieved by passing laws that re-prioritize how schools spend money, and we can do that without taxpayers spending a penny more.”


Under Abbott’s “plan,” if it actually is a plan, there is no guarantee of a $1,000 pay raise for any teacher.

What the governor really wants to do is squeeze under-funded local school districts – and local property taxpayers – even harder by requiring them to pay for a “merit” pay raise for selected teachers, which could very well come at the expense of other teachers losing their jobs or taking pay cuts and students getting stuck with larger classes. According to one preliminary analysis, only 10 percent of teachers eventually would get a significant salary increase under this scenario, which likely would be carried out only after a two-year study by the education commissioner.

The state instead should invest the resources necessary to attract and retain highly qualified teachers for all Texas students, and those resources should be invested now.

The governor, who may announce for reelection about the time the special session convenes, is mainly dangling the promise of higher teacher pay as a political ploy to try to cover his miserable record on public education.

Average teacher pay in Texas lags $6,300 below the national average, and per-student funding is $2,555 less than the national average. Nothing in Abbott’s proposal would address these deficiencies.


Trying to flush school districts down the toilet


Graydon Hicks, the superintendent of the small Fort Davis ISD in far West Texas recently wrote an open letter, lambasting Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick over the legislative majority’s continuing failure to adequately fund public education.

He detailed how the state’s top two “leaders,” while playing politics with school bathrooms and privatization, are threatening to flush endangered school districts, such as Fort Davis, down the toilet.

In his letter published on the Big Bend Now website, Hicks wrote: “Fort Davis ISD has 235 children, has NO cafeteria, has NO bus routes, has dropped our band program, has eliminated (or not filled) 15 staff positions, has CUT stipends for extra-curricular activities, has FROZEN (or reduced) staff pay for one year, has CUT extra-curricular programs, has NO debt and has increased our local tax rate to the maximum of $1.17 (per $100 valuation) allowed by law.”

“We have nothing left to cut. We have nothing left to reduce,” he added.

Meanwhile, in Austin, Abbott and Patrick continue to stick their noses into kids’ bathrooms, continue to promote the wasting of tax dollars on private school vouchers and are seeking an unnecessary, umpteenth study of school finance instead of tackling the funding issue head-on.

“Quit pontificating about bathrooms,” Hicks wrote. “Quit hiding your intentions behind righteous statements on school vouchers and choice.”

The superintendent then challenged the governor and the lieutenant governor to “come out to our community and face the wrath of our taxpayers and voters….Come explain yourself to our parents and children.”

That’s a nice idea, but it won’t happen because Abbott and Patrick have every reason to think they can continue to take the votes of most Fort Davis voters for granted. And why shouldn’t they?

Abbott took 60 percent of the vote in Jeff Davis County, where Fort Davis ISD is located, in winning the governor’s office in 2014, and Patrick took almost 57 percent. Both defeated Democratic opponents who had far superior records on public education issues. The two handily won majorities not only in Fort Davis but also in many other school districts throughout Texas that now also are being squeezed by Abbott’s and Patrick’s policies.

Elections have consequences for school districts, superintendents and students, and those consequences will be changed only when election outcomes are changed. Abbott and Patrick will be on the ballot again next year. What will the parents, educators and other voters in Fort Davis and other school districts do then?