Month: <span>August 2017</span>

History deserves accuracy, not cowardice


The debate over Confederate statues will continue, but for educators and other fair-minded Americans there should be no debate over one critical point. The portrayal of history should be accurate, and in Texas the governor should set the example, not be a political coward.

You may have read the recent story in The Dallas Morning News about state Rep. Eric Johnson’s discovery that a plaque on the wall outside his state Capitol office denies that Texas and other southern states seceded from the Union on the eve of the Civil War over the issue of slavery.

That claim is an out-and-out lie and one of many belated attempts by Confederate sympathziers to rewrite history. This particular plaque was mounted in 1959, during the civil rights era, by a group of revisionists called Children of the Confederacy Creed. The plaque claims the Civil War “was not a rebellion nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.”

In truth, the Texas Ordinance of Secession adopted in 1861 is full of language about protecting slavery or “the servitude of the African to the white race” and complains repeatedly about steps taken or encouraged by the federal government to destroy “the institutions of Texas and her sister slave-holding states.”

The Texas secession leaders even went so far as to proclaim that “the servitude of the African race, as existing in these (southern) States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations.”

They added: “By the (earlier) secession of six of the slave-holding States, and the certainty that others will speedily do likewise, Texas has no alternative but to remain in an isolated connection with the North, or unite her destinies with the South.”

A few years ago, the State Board of Education also tried to downplay the role of slavery in the Civil War by adopting curriculum standards that listed slavery as a cause of secession after sectionalism and states’ rights.

Johnson, an African American, has asked the State Preservation Board, chaired by Abbott, to remove the offending plaque.

Abbott responded by issuing a statement condemning “racist and hate-filled violence.” But he added, “Instead of trying to bury our past, we must learn from it and ensure it doesn’t happen again. Tearing down monuments won’t erase our nation’s past, and it doesn’t advance our nation’s future.”

The governor missed the point. No one was asking him to erase or deny our history. Rep. Johnson was asking him to remove from prominent, public display in the seat of state government a plaque that deliberately lies about that history.

Is the governor afraid of the same thing as the dangerous president he helped elect? Is he afraid of losing the votes of some white supremacists?



Educators, children continue to suffer from election results


No sooner had the special legislative session come to a merciful end than the nanny-nanny-boo-boo duet started whining. That would be Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Call it a trio if you want to throw in Sen. Paul Bettencourt, the Patrick clone who also wailed away the session’s demise.

The Legislature had adjourned, but kindergarten was still in class.

All three were upset that the House majority, led by the adult in the room, Speaker Joe Straus, had killed a large chunk of Abbott’s and Patrick’s right-wing session agenda, including the despicable bathroom bill, private school vouchers and several undemocratic proposals that sought to impose their own ideological will over the local control decisions of city governments.

They also whined, of course, about the failure to pass an alleged property tax “relief” bill, Senate Bill 1, which the governor had designated his top priority of the session. Senate Bill 1, however, was a hoax. It wouldn’t have cut anyone’s taxes by a dime. Abbott knew that, Patrick knew that and so did Bettencourt. But they still are trying to mislead Texans.

All the bill would have done would have put tighter, arbitrary limits on the abilities of locally elected city and county officials to raise the revenue necessary to hire police officers and firefighters, ensure clean water and provide other essential public services that Texans depend upon every day.

The Legislature did have an opportunity to actually lower property taxes during the session, and Straus and the House majority tried to do that by passing a bill to increase state funding for public schools by $1.8 billion. Increasing state funding for education is the only way to lower property taxes in Texas because property taxes now account for most of the money used to support public schools, a fact that Abbott, Patrick and their allies continue to ignore. Patrick’s Senate allies gutted the House bill.

The state now pays only 38 percent of the public education budget, and that figure will continue to fall as long as Abbott and Patrick et al continue to pass the buck and ignore their constitutional responsibility to adequately and equitably pay for public education.

Bettencourt, the SB1 sponsor, predicted Texas taxpayers will be “furious” over the bill’s failure. He, Abbott and Patrick blamed the House and Straus, which offered the Senate a watered-down version of SB1 that Patrick found objectionable.


Most taxpayers, at least those who are paying attention, are beginning to recognize the Abbott-Patrick-Bettencourt ruse for what it is, a way to pass the blame for their own failures. All taxpayers have every reason to be furious about that.

Abbott and Patrick are lashing out at Straus with the obvious intent to paint a right-wing target on him in next year’s Republican primary.  Texas can ill-afford to lose Straus as speaker, but Abbott and Patrick obviously are more interested in advancing their own ideological agenda than strengthening Texas’ future.

“Elections matter,” Abbott said.

They certainly do. And that’s why Texans now have a governor and a Senate majority that continue to neglect school children, educators and taxpayers. Voters need to start doing better.




Schools need more state funding, not another study


Sometimes, legislators propose studies to actually try to learn something about a new or complex issue. Sometimes, as the Senate leadership is doing now with school finance, they propose studies to avoid doing the right thing.

Texas’ school finance system has been studied more times than Donald Trump has tweeted a lie….Well, maybe not that many times, but certainly the issue of school funding in Texas has been studied enough over the years to know what needs to be done. The Legislature needs to provide more state resources and a more equitable distribution of those resources among school districts.

Last spring and now during the special session, Speaker Joe Straus and the House have been trying to move in that direction, only to be blocked by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Senate majority. The latest school finance legislation approved by the House is not perfect. It would provide an additional $1.8 billion for school funding during this budget period through an accounting maneuver instead of dipping into the $10 billion Rainy Day Fund. But it would be a start in the right direction that could be continued and strengthened with improved state appropriations during the next regular session in 2019.

But Senate leaders, whose primary interest in public schools is how to privatize them, beginning with school vouchers, has again slammed the door. Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor rejected the House plan as a “political fix” and called instead for a commission to study current school funding.

Another study, however, would delay financial assistance for schools while Texas remains in the lower tier of states in school funding. Meanwhile, enrollment will continue to increase by about 80,000 children a year, and school property taxes will continue to increase.

It doesn’t take another study for legislators to know that the state’s share of school funding has plunged from 67 percent in the mid-1980s to 38 percent now. And it doesn’t take another study to know that this buck-passing by the legislative majority is the main reason local property taxes continue to climb.

But there is another reason Senate leaders want to “study” school funding some more. They want to regroup on their No. 1 education priority – school vouchers and other privatization schemes – and try again to ram them down the House’s throat in 2019, complete with the blessings of a “blue ribbon” study panel that would include few, if any, teachers.

That would be a political hoax.




Mark White angered teachers, but…


Some Texas teachers with long memories are still angry at Gov. Mark White for an insulting, one-time competency test that he was forced to enact to secure them a pay raise. But no Texas governor during the past two generations has come close to matching the educational legacy that White left behind after only four years in the governor’s office.

During White’s tenure, the Legislature in 1984 enacted House Bill 72, which made several lasting improvements – real reforms – in the public school system, most notably the 22-1 class size limit for grades K-4 and the “no pass, no play rule,” which requires students to maintain passing grades to participate in athletics and other extracurricular activities.

White, you see, was more interested in school classrooms than school bathrooms.

Under the leadership of White and then-Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby and Speaker Gib Lewis, the Legislature also increased state taxes and fees to boost public education funding by $4 billion. By the end of White’s term in January 1987, as R.G. Ratcliffe notes in the Texas Monthly article linked below, the state paid 67 percent of all public education costs in Texas, compared to a pitiful 38 percent now. School property taxes were much lower then too.

House Bill 72 also opened the door to standardized testing, which subsequently got out of hand under subsequent governors, beginning with George W. Bush.

The teacher competency test never should have happened, but White was forced to agree to it to secure a teacher pay raise from the Legislature. And he paid for it when teachers who had been a key factor in his 1982 election victory over Republican Bill Clements turned against him in his unsuccessful reelection bid in 1986.

More significant in White’s reelection loss, though, were plunging oil prices and a looming recession that drove a $1.6 billion deficit in the state budget during the campaign year. White was forced to call the Legislature into special session only weeks before Election Day and urge lawmakers to cut spending and raise taxes.

If they needed political cover, he said, “Blame me.”

The voters blamed him and returned Clements to the governor’s office. Even in the face of the worsening economy and budgetary picture, Clements had campaigned on a pledge to cut taxes, which he had to break within months after returning to Austin. The tax increase Clements signed in 1987 is still one of the largest in Texas history.

White was fond of quoting Sam Houston: “Do right and risk the consequences.” He did “right” for public education and other critical state needs and certainly suffered some consequences.

Wrong decisions also have consequences, such as the hits that educators and school children have suffered from recent election results.

The longer Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick remain in office, the more state funding of public schools continues to slip – 38 percent and dropping . And the more the education community – whether every educator realizes it or not — misses the kind of real commitment Mark White had to public education.