Month: <span>January 2018</span>

Campaign to intimidate educators from voting not likely to go away


The Texas Public Policy Foundation, an Austin-based, “free market” think tank, has long been an advocate of privatizing education, creating more opportunities, not for school children, but for the entrepreneurs it counts among its financial backers. TPPF views government, including public schools, as a potential profit center for investors, and its influence is evident among the state’s current leadership.

For good reason, educators have always been a threat to TPPF’s program. I don’t mean the people who go around calling themselves education “experts” and are on call for Dan Patrick to summon them to the Capitol to testify for his latest bad idea.

I mean the real education experts, the teachers, counselors and others who work in Texas’ public schools, trying to give every child an opportunity to succeed, including those kids who private schools and corporate charters don’t want to touch.

So it’s not surprising that the “free market” think tank has added its support to an obvious effort to intimidate educators from voting in this year’s elections. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt of Houston, who has consistently voted to under-fund public schools and promote vouchers, got the anti-educator campaign started late last year. He asked Attorney General Ken Paxton for a legal opinion on what school districts can and can’t do to encourage employees and students of voting age to register and vote.

He was responding to efforts of a nonpartisan group called Texas Educators Vote that is urging school districts to help drum up a large voting turnout among educators and urging educators to vote in the best interests of Texas school children. TSTA also has launched a similar, but separate, Vote Education First campaign.

Paxton promptly answered Bettencourt’s request and in a non-binding political opinion that was as predictable as 100-degree temperatures in Austin in August suggested that educator voting campaigns were a nefarious plot. TPPF applauded.

In a statement, TPPF said Paxton had recognized the educators’ campaign was “a thinly veiled coercion of government employees, who were urged to support an oath in support of Texas school children by a group that seems to support a particular political agenda.”

Imagine that. Educators urging educators to vote in support of school children.

Individual educators have a constitutional right to support a political agenda of their choosing, and they certainly have a right to vote in the best interests of their students and their professions. But’s that the kind of voting that scares the school privateers.

At lot is at stake in this year’s elections. Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Patrick, two of the biggest school privatization advocates in state government, are on the ballot. And so are legislative races that will determine who the next speaker of the House is. Speaker Joe Straus, who is retiring, opposed vouchers and other privatization schemes. But who will be his successor?

Vote Education First!



School children are pawns in the governor’s game


This being an election year, Gov. Abbott is playing a game of deception with the voters, and Texas’ vulnerable school children are the pawns. Actually, he has been playing a version of this game during his entire term, but now he is revving into overdrive.

Within a matter of a few days, Abbott has tried to convince the parents of children in need of special education services that he can provide what their families need and cut their taxes at the same time. He can’t.

To be clear, Abbott wasn’t responsible for the illegal cap that the Texas Education Agency imposed on special education enrollments in 2004, a limit that deprived tens of thousands of Texas children of the services to which they were entitled. Then-Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative majority ultimately were responsible for that insensitive act because the cap was prompted by their failure to adequately fund special education and other public school programs.

Abbott, however, is responsible for correcting the problem, and so far he is doing a lousy job. After news of the cap blew up on his watch, Abbott and the Legislature made sure last year that the cap was removed and wouldn’t be reimposed. But the governor refused to demand that the Legislature provide what special education families really need, more state funding for their public schools. And he turned his back on Speaker Joe Straus and the House majority, when they offered legislation to increase education funding. Instead, he endorsed another study – the umpteenth – of school finance by a commission that was to hold its first meeting today.

When the U.S. Department of Education formally notified Texas a couple of weeks ago that the special education cap had violated federal law, the governor quickly blamed school districts for the fiasco and ordered state Education Commissioner Mike Morath to immediately start correcting the problem.

Then, a few days later, Abbott unveiled a campaign proposal that, were it to become law, would squeeze special education services and all public education programs even harder. This is the governor’s “plan” to set an unreasonably low limit on local property taxes, including those levied by school districts, in order to allegedly provide “relief” to local taxpayers.

Because Abbott has allowed the state’s share of education funding to continue to drop to below 40 percent, his new political scam to limit property taxes would force more cuts in school funding for all students, including special education kids. Local property taxes are high, not because local school districts are wasting money, but because the governor and the state Senate majority refuse to provide adequate state funding for public education, period.

As a result, local property taxpayers now bear 60 percent of the cost of the Foundation School Program and will see their share increase to 62 percent next year. The remedy for high property taxes is more state funding for education, not election year gimmicks.

Morath, who wasn’t commissioner when the cap was imposed in 2004, has come up with a plan to address some of the special education issues. But it will fall short of meeting the needs of all special education students because Morath and the Texas Education Agency don’t have the authority to appropriate money and must act within the limits of the restrictive state budget signed by Abbott.

Abbott’s office has asked for public “feedback” on the TEA plan. Tell the governor to quit playing games with school children’s futures and demand that the Legislature adequately fund all school programs, including special education. Then, remember that elections have consequences, and we have been living through them. Go to the polls and Vote Education First.




Abbott’s tax plan disaster is another reason to Vote Education First


For now, Gov. Abbott’s latest property tax proposal is little more than a campaign pitch. But it raises the stakes on this year’s elections because if the governor were to muster enough legislative votes to enact something like this, it would be a disaster for a host of important local services, beginning with public schools.

If you are paying high property taxes – and many Texans are – the primary culprits are Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and their legislative allies, not your local school board, your county commissioners court or your city council. And here is why.

The main reason local property taxes continue to increase is because the state refuses to adequately fund public education, and the situtation has grown worse under Abbott and Patrick’s watch. No amount of denial or attempted buck-passing from Abbott or Patrick is going to change that fact.

In 2014, the year Abbott and Patrick were elected to their current jobs, the state paid 45 percent of the Foundation School Program, and local property taxpayers paid 55 percent, according to the Legislative Budget Board. This year, the state’s share has dropped to 40 percent, while property taxpayers have seen their share increase to 60 percent. Next year, the state’s share is expected to decline even further to 38 percent, while local taxpayers will be paying 62 percent. Meanwhile,enrollment in Texas public schools will continue to increase by more than 80,000 students every year.

The state paid $2,555 less than the national average per student in 2016-17, ranking Texas 36th among the states and the District of Columbia in that important category.

Two times last year, once during the regular session and again in the summer special session, Speaker Joe Straus and the House approved legislation to increase state funding. But each time, Patrick, aided and abetted by Abbott, led the Senate to reject the House plan in favor of ripping off state tax dollars for private school vouchers.

Now, as he did last year, Abbott proposes clamping down on the ability of local governments to raise property taxes to pay for needed services. This proposal, however, is worse. It would place a 2.5 percent cap on annual revenue growth from property taxes and, this time, it would apply to school districts as well as cities, counties and other local governments.

It would lead to a reduction in critical local services, particularly in fast-growth areas, and it would worsen the plight of already under-funded school districts, forcing cuts in instructional programs as school enrollments climb.

Abbott made vague references about exceptions for law enforcement and teacher pay raises, and he said his plan may require the state to increase its share of education funding. But he offered no state funding plan, and he has a history of fighting against school finance improvements. As TSTA President Noel Candelaria has pointed out, the governor needs to “show us the money.”

Instead, Abbott is more likely to use his anti-government, anti-public education allies to try to force Republican legislators and legislative candidates to pledge their support of Abbott’s plan in the Republican primary, where many critical legislative races will be decided.

It will require political courage for some Republican candidates who truly value their public schools to defy the governor and his well-funded allies, and that makes it essential for educators to make an adequately funded public education system their top voting priority. Vote Education First!

Remember, elections have consequences, and not only in the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s offices. With Straus’ decision to retire, the election of a new speaker is at stake in the House elections. Under Straus’ leadership, the House tried to increase education funding last year and has repeatedly shut the door on private school vouchers.

The upcoming elections, beginning with the party primaries, will determine what kind of speaker succeeds Straus and whether this half-baked proposal by the governor will become law.

“We must rein in property tax growth,” Abbott said.

Let’s do it, governor. But let’s do it the right way, with more state education funding. Tell the governor that – with your votes.




It is time for Trump’s enablers and apologists to call him out


If any school kid had been overheard speaking half the trashy, racially-tinged remarks that President Trump makes headlines with, the child would have been suspended or transferred to an alternative, disciplinary campus. Unfortunately, there is no alternative White House. We are stuck with the occupant of the real Oval Office for the foreseeable future.

We also are stuck for the time being with a bunch of alleged political “leaders” in Texas who helped elect Trump and refuse to call him out when he uses his foul mouth to insult much of the world’s population as well as millions of American citizens –people of color – whom he purports to serve.

You can argue about whether the president of the United States is a racist, but there is no doubt that he is appealing to racists, and that’s a pretty thin distinction. Racists alone didn’t elect Trump, but they helped. He knows that, and he is counting on their support in 2020, if he is still a  viable candidate.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a prominent member of the president’s adopted party, publicly and forcefully admonished Trump after the president’s trashy, demeaning remarks last week about Haiti, African countries and the people who live there.

There also may have been one or two other Republican members of the Senate who expressed their disapproval, but they weren’t the two U.S. senators from Texas, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, who have remained mum about the ill-prepared, uninformed and insensitive president they continue to help prop up.

The silence from Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who – like Cruz – are up for reelection this year, also has been noticeable. What kind of role models are they for Texas school children? We encourage kids to stand up to bullies. Should we expect any less from their alleged political leaders?

These are the same “leaders” who seem intent on dictating their version of morality to their constituents, to the dereliction of their real duties. Who can forget, for example, that Abbott and Patrick would rather tell school kids which bathroom they can use than provide enough funding to give all Texas children the educational opportunities they need.

Their morality meddling, however, doesn’t extend to the president. They refuse to call him out. Perhaps they don’t want to offend any of the president’s supporters, including the race-baiters they should be offending, because they don’t want to lose anyone’s vote, including a race-baiter’s.

Like all the other enablers and apologists for Trump, they also prefer power over decency, and power doesn’t require decency.

It is shameful.