Month: <span>January 2018</span>

Abbott talks tough while passing the buck on special education


Give Gov. Abbott some credit…but not too much. When the need arises, he can talk tough, especially on the eve of a reelection campaign. But most of the issues that cross the governor’s desk require more than talk, and that includes special education. And that’s where he still falls short.

When the federal government announced Thursday that Texas had violated federal law by denying tens of thousands of Texas children access to special education services, Abbott promptly issued a sternly worded letter blaming school districts for a “dereliction of duty” and directing Education Commissioner Mike Morath to begin preparing an “initial corrective action plan” within seven days.

“Parents and students across our state cannot continue waiting for change,” he wrote.

But then what, governor?

The Texas Education Agency shares blame for the special education fiasco, but it isn’t the real culprit. Neither are school districts. TEA quietly imposed an arbitrary cap on special education enrollment years ago, before Morath became commissioner or Abbott became governor. The cap, which was removed last year, was a symptom of a deeper problem – the inadequate state funding of special education services and other public education programs.

Abbott couldn’t do anything about education funding back then, but he can now, and so far he has refused to do so. During three legislative sessions as governor over the past three years, Abbott has shut the door on efforts to give public schools the level of state resources they need for special education and a host of other services.

Most recently, during last summer’s special session, Abbott’s “answer” for special education families was a plan to take tax dollars away from public schools and turn it over to private schools in the form of tuition vouchers. Fortunately, the House killed that idea, which ignored the fact that many private schools don’t provide comprehensive special education services and don’t want to. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, meanwhile, slammed the door on legislation passed by the House to increase public school funding.

In the wake of the new federal report, Morath plans to beef up special education support staff and take what other steps he can – within budget constraints set by Abbott and the Legislature.

And Abbott will continue to talk and blame everyone else for the problem.

Feds say Texas illegally failed to educate students with disabilities




Governor says January is “School Board Recognition Month.” How hollow is that?


In case you haven’t heard, Gov. Abbott has proclaimed this month “School Board Recognition Month,” but please hold your applause. The proclamation is a political offering worth more to the governor than to any school board member or anyone else associated with public education in Texas, including about 5.4 million school kids.

Sure, the document, embossed with the state seal and suitable for framing, says a lot of nice things about school board members and the “vital role” they play in helping to “secure our young people’s bright and precious futures.”

The resolution is fine if you appreciate that kind of thing, and most school board members certainly deserve the kind words and attention. But the words, by themselves, are hollow, coming from a governor who has persistently refused to advocate for the one thing that school boards need more than anything else, a dependable stream of adequate state funding.

As attorney general, Abbott fought in court against school districts seeking more funding, and now as governor he continues to fight against them, letting Texas lag about $2,500 behind the national average in per-student funding. Adequate and equitable state funding could make it a lot easier for school board members to tackle the “challenges” the governor’s resolution praises them for tackling.

In fact, the biggest challenge most school board members face is doing their jobs despite the obstacles thrown up by a governor and a lieutenant governor more interested in privatizing public schools than supporting them with something more than lip service.


Many legislators have reason to fear the teacher vote, but only if teachers vote for education


State Sen. Paul Bettencourt of Houston apparently is scared of teachers. He is scared, at least, of what teachers can do if they vote and vote for education. So, he has taken the first step in what may become a widespread effort to intimidate educators from going to the polls this year.

Last month, Bettencourt 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 to vote and go to the polls.

He was responding to efforts of a nonpartisan group called Texas Educators Vote that is solicting the support of school districts to drum up a large voting turnout among educators. The campaign, whose partners include the Texas Association of School Boards and other pro-public education groups, also has drafted an oath that educators can sign promising to cast their ballots “in support of the more than 5.4 million Texas school children.”

Texas Educators Vote makes clear, in detail on its website, that public money and other school district resources, including equipment and email, cannot be used to advocate for or against a specific issue or candidate. But it points out that the 657,000 teachers and other employees of Texas school districts can make a positive difference in education policy if they vote — and vote in the best interests of their students and their professions – in the party primaries and the general election.

That is what Sen. Bettencourt fears and is trying to discourage. Bettencourt may be in a politically “safe” district. But he knows that educators who vote in the best interests of education won’t be voting for him and like-minded colleagues who persist in under-funding public schools, promoting private school vouchers and wasting resources and classroom time on high-stakes standardized testing.

“I don’t think everyone wants educators to go out and vote, which I find disappointing,” Laura Yeager, the Texas Educators Vote director, told The Texas Tribune.

As Blake G. Powell, president of Friends of Texas Public Schools, noted on the Texas Educators Vote website, “Elections are determined by who shows up, and your vote could determine the future of public education.”

Unfortunately, in recent years, many educators have not been showing up to vote, and many others have been voting against their own and their students’ best interest. That needs to change, or Texas public school students will remain among the most under-funded and over-tested in the country. And their parents will continue to see their local property taxes rise, and Texas teachers will continue to be significantly underpaid.

Texas lawmaker questions education group’s tactics for getting out the vote




Neglecting health care for kids while boosting the wealthy; how did your representative vote?


Passing that awful tax bill on the eve of the holidays was bad enough, but the majority in Congress compounded the felony by failing to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program before 2017 drew to a close. A CHIP bill never came to a vote.

That means a huge package of tax cuts and tax breaks for the super-wealthy and what amounts to a private school voucher plan for K-12 are a lock, while the hard-working parents of about 8.9 million low-income American children (almost 400,000 in Texas) still don’t know if they will be able to get basic health care for their kids after existing funding runs out in a few weeks.

Want to do something about it? You can. This is an election year, and here are the members of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House from Texas who voted for the tax bill while putting off the health care needs of children:

Both U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn voted for it. Cornyn won’t be up for re-election until 2020, but Cruz will be on the ballot this year. Cruz not only voted for the tax bill, but he also was the sponsor of the voucher amendment that was tacked on to it. His amendment will allow parents to spend as much as $10,000 per child per year from their tax-advantaged 529 savings accounts for K-12 tuition at religious and private schools. Previously, those accounts were limited to college tuition.

The new tax law also will add more than a trillion dollars to the deficit and potentially jeopardize some crucial programs for middle- and low-income Americans, including Social Security and Medicare, when the bills for the billionaire tax cuts come due in a few years. Here are the U.S. House members from Texas who voted for the new tax law. Some aren’t running for re-election, but most are:

Louie Gohmert (District 1), Ted Poe (District 2), Sam Johnson (District 3), John Ratcliffe (District 4), Jeb Hensarling (District 5), Joe Barton (District 6), John Culberson (District 7), Kevin Brady (District 8), Michael McCaul (District 10), Mike Conaway (District 11), Kay Granger (District 12), Mac Thornberry (District 13), Randy Weber (District 14).

Also, Bill Flores (District 17), Jodey Arrington (District 19), Lamar Smith (District 21), Pete Olson (District 22), Will Hurd (District 23), Kenny Marchant (District 24), Roger Williams (District 25), Michael Burgess (District 26), Blake Farenthold (District 27), John Carter (District 31), Pete Sessions (District 32) and Brian Babin (District 36).

Kevin Brady (District 8) also was the chief House sponsor of the tax law.

If you don’t know who represents you in the U.S. House, go to the link below, fill in your home address and under district type, select “congressional.”

Elections have consequences, and this new tax law is one of them. So is the neglect of children’s health care. Now, there will be another election, and a chance for change.