Month: <span>September 2017</span>

Straus under attack for promoting Texas instead of the political fringe


A fringe group of Republicans – including super-wealthy right-wingers who want to turn public education and the rest of state government into a cash cow of privatization – are trying to convince local GOP governing committees around the state to censure Texas House Speaker Joe Straus.

Straus is a Republican who actually wants to govern, not bully, discriminate or regress, and that’s what this is all about. A sample resolution being peddled by his detractors accuses the speaker of abusing his authority, making a “mockery” of representative government and doing “violence” to the Texas Constitution.


What the right-wing beef really is all about is Straus’ insistence on putting the priorities of all Texans over the narrow goals of a minority of ideologues who have taken over much of the GOP’s governing apparatus and have a disproportionate influence over its primary elections.

For example, the sample resolution blasts Straus for obstructing legislation to spend tax dollars on private school vouchers, an alleged “Republican principle.” In truth, there always has been strong bipartisan opposition to vouchers, which is why the House for several sessions now has killed the legislation.

The fringe element also castigates Straus for opposing and helping to kill the bathroom bill, which would have discriminated against transgender Texans and singled out transgender school children for bullying. Straus considered the bill despicable and, if enacted, a barrier to future economic development. So did hundreds of prominent business leaders throughout the state, including Republicans, and many Republican members of the House.

The resolution also faults Straus for obstructing Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda, including vouchers, the bathroom bill and a fake property tax “relief” bill that wouldn’t have lowered anyone’s property taxes by a dime. The bill, however, would have made it more difficult for local governments to pay for the fire and police protection, safe water supplies and other public services that even fringe ideologues have come to take for granted.

Straus and the House majority passed legislation during both legislative sessions this year that could have led to real cuts in school property taxes by increasing state funding for public education. The bill would have been a down payment on a new school finance system, but it was rejected by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Senate.

Straus’ approach to school funding and tax cuts is supported by most Texas voters, 79 percent of Republican voters and 86 percent of Democrats, according to bipartisan polling commissioned by TSTA earlier this year.

But Abbott and Patrick continue to spread the lie that Straus killed property tax “relief.” And both have indicated they will support efforts to unseat Straus from the speaker’s office because of his role in defeating vouchers and the bathroom bill as well. Abbott’s agenda is also Patrick’s agenda, a fringe agenda supported by officials who would rather pander than lead.

“When I place my hand on the Bible, and I raise my right hand on the first day of the session, I pledge to uphold the Constitution of the United States and of this state, and not any party convention’s platform,” Straus said.

Or any wishlist concocted by a party’s fringe.





After Harvey, school finance fix is more urgent than ever


Hurricane Harvey did more than destroy homes and schools. It also wiped out billions of dollars in taxable property values and made it even more urgent for the Legislature to begin work on drafting a new school finance system.

Harvey compounded the problem—exacerbated the folly, you could say – of the state letting local property taxpayers assume an increasing share of public education costs, while the state’s share has slipped well below half. Now, the school finance fix that Speaker Joe Straus and the House majority tried to begin addressing and the Senate rejected twice this year (during the regular and special sessions) will be more expensive.

It also will be more necessary than ever.

According to some estimates, Harvey wiped out between $3 billion and $4 billion in property tax values that has been helping to prop up the school finance system. It may not be necessary to address the issue in a special session, but it is time for the Legislature to begin drafting a plan now so an adequate, equitable and workable school finance solution can be enacted during the next regular session in 2019.

Once again, Straus and the House are likely to take the lead on this issue. Straus already has directed the House Public Education Committee to study the financial implications of Harvey on schools and the potential punitive consequences of STAAR testing and the state’s accountability system on impacted districts and displaced students. The committee is expected to begin its work with a meeting in a couple of weeks.

Incidentally, according to media reports, Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty suffered about $50,000 in damages to his Houston-area home during the storm.

“Harvey has changed everything,” Straus said during a interview over the weekend at the Texas Tribune Festival.

But has it changed the hearts and attitudes of Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick? They have been two of the biggest obstacles to a school finance overhaul, preferring to let local taxes continue to rise with property values while shedding crocodile tears for the people who pay them. The only effective way to lower local property taxes is to increase state funding for schools.

Over the weekend, Patrick sent a political email with photos of him and Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor joining other volunteers helping stricken homeowners with cleanup and repair efforts. The email also included a plea for more volunteers and admitted the “massive” job of recovery was “just beginning.”

“That ‘Texas Strong’ spirit is needed now more than ever,” Patrick said.

A strong, can-do spirit of volunteerism is great, but it isn’t enough. As lieutenant governor and leader of the Senate, Patrick can do much more to help Texans recover from Harvey. He has endorsed tapping into the Rainy Day Fund to help with hurricane recovery. But he also needs to quit being an obstacle to creating a long-term system of adequate and equitable funding of critical public services, including Texas public schools – in the storm area and elsewhere.



Robert E. Lee? OK, but what about James Bowie?


Dallas ISD is one of the latest school districts to go through the controversial process of erasing the names of slavery defenders from its schools. A difficult part that process is deciding where to stop. The old South, including Texas, is full of memorials to racism and a lost cause erected years after the Civil War by people who refused to believe that all people, in fact, were created equal.

The issue of removing Confederate statues and renaming schools resurfaced following the recent white supremacy violence in Charlottesville, Va.

For now, according to The Dallas Morning News, DISD is going to consider renaming only schools that bear the names of Confederate generals. That means elementary schools that now honor the memories of Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, Stonewall Jackson and William L. Cabell may soon be relabeled.

Other schools carrying the names of individuals who had slaves or other connections to the Confederacy, such as Thomas Jefferson High School and John H. Reagan Elementary School, will be keeping their names, at least for now. These include James Bowie Elementary School.

James Bowie, of course, has long been considered a Texas “hero” because of his death at the Alamo. Lesser known, though, is the fact that long before his arrival in San Antonio, he was a slave-trader. He and his brother, Rezin, bought slaves from the pirate Jean Laffite on Galveston Island and resold them in Louisiana. According to the Handbook of Texas, they made $65,000 – more than $1 million in today’s dollars — at their despicable business before retiring and investing their profits in land speculation.

Who committed the greater sin? Robert E. Lee or James Bowie? Were they equally guilty of perpetuating an evil practice, or was Bowie somehow “exonerated” by his death at the Alamo?

I have two children, now grown, who graduated from James Bowie High School in Austin ISD, and I doubt that more than a handful of parents during their time there knew about Bowie’s unsavory past.

“Are there names of other people that somebody might want to change in the future?” DISD Board President Dan Micciche asked.

There may be.



Pope Francis: Respect for life applies to the Dreamers


Perhaps the most interesting response to President Trump’s decision to end DACA, the immigration haven for about 800,000 young people, has come from Pope Francis. Like TSTA and milllions of Americans, the Pope believes the decision was a mistake.

Sure, the president deferred any deportation action against the so-called Dreamers for six months to give Congress time to enact legislation reauthorizing the program, but he has put the lives of these young people in limbo as they await action from a Congress that usually has difficulty even agreeing on the time of day.

Pointing out the cruelty inherent in making these Dreamers subject to deportation, Pope Francis said the decision to end the DACA program means Trump may not be as “pro-life” has he has previously claimed.

“The president of the United States presents himself as pro-life, and if he is a good pro-lifer he understands that family is the cradle of life and its unity must be protected,” the Pope said aboard his plane this week, according to news reports, as he returned to the Vatican from a trip to Colombia.

Although undocumented, these young people, including about 120,000 in Texas, were brought to the United States as infants or young children, and they consider themselves Americans because this is the only home most of them have ever known. Deporting them would break up thousands of families throughout the country.

The Pope, of course, is one of the world’s most outspoken “pro-life” or anti-abortion advocates. As president, Trump claims to be anti-abortion, although his record on that issue has not been consistent over the years.

TSTA takes stands on education, not abortion. We have members on both sides of the abortion issue, and we respect their beliefs. But TSTA wholeheartedly agrees with Pope Francis that the respect for life obviously extends to the living, all the living, including undocumented young people who are students in our schools and universities, teachers in our classrooms and productive members of our work force.