Month: <span>March 2018</span>

Trump’s Commission on School Safety shuts out students, educators


Tens of thousands of students and educators from Texas – joined by additional thousands across the country – marched and rallied last weekend for the government to take reasonable steps to protect them from gun violence while they are at school. So, how does the Trump administration respond? With a deaf ear.

Trump’s Federal Commission on School Safety, chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, held its first meeting behind closed doors at the White House today and did not invite students, parents or educators. Maybe President Trump, who already has said he wants to arm teachers to protect students against gun violence, just doesn’t want to hear more sensible ideas offered by students and educators.

That’s what National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia suspects.

“The commission’s clear purpose is to push an agenda that is focused on a dangerous and misguided plan to put more guns in schools by arming teachers and other school personnel,” she said. “All of this is a distraction from the real problem: Very dangerous people have very easy access to very dangerous weapons. Our students need fewer guns in schools – not more of them – and bringing guns into our schools does absolutely nothing to protect our students and educators from gun violence.”


That out-of-pocket school supply money really adds up


Sometimes, we neglect to keep track of how the little and the not-so-little things add up, things like the money for which teachers routinely dig into their pockets to purchase supplies for their classrooms because their budget-strapped school districts either can’t afford to or won’t.

It has been generally reported that Texas teachers spend between $500 to $1,000 a year on school supplies without being reimbursed for the expenses, which year in and year out amounts to a significant contribution to public education costs. But how much?

TSTA did the math, which wasn’t complicated. With 350,000 teachers in Texas, their personal contributions for classroom supplies would range from $175 million to $350 million per year, or $350 million to $700 million for each two-year state budget cycle.

That’s a significant subsidy for an inadequate state funding system that Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and their legislative allies refuse to improve. And it’s a subsidy coming from teachers who, on average, are paid about $6,000 less per year than their peers across the country and continue to see their take-home pay eroded by rising health care premiums that the same state officials refuse to address.

TSTA government relations specialist John Grey discussed those figures, among other school funding issues, in testimony at Monday’s Commission on Public School Finance hearing.

“Texas school children deserve better,” Grey said.

And so do the teachers who teach them.



More school funding or a political charade?


A series of public opinion surveys, including two commissioned by TSTA and a new one by a pro- education group with business ties, make it clear that the vast majority of Texas voters want the governor and the Legislature to increase state funding for public schools. But, unfortunately, there is ample evidence that the Commission on School Finance will ignore the voters’ wishes when it makes recommendations to the Legislature.

A minority of commission members, including House Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty, are likely to fight for more state education dollars. But overall this alleged “study” of school funding may very well end up being a political charade, and here are some reasons why:

# Most of the commission members, including the chairman, were appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, both of whom would rather spend our tax dollars on private school vouchers than on an adequate and equitable school funding system. Remember, they both rejected the House’s efforts to improve school funding during both the regular and special legislative sessions last year. So, don’t be surprised if the commission ends up promoting vouchers and squeezing more “efficiency” out of what is left of the existing education budget.

# As attorney general, Abbott consistently fought against lawsuits in which school districts and other plaintiffs sought better state funding. Abbott hired Ted Cruz as his solicitor general, and speaking on Abbott’s behalf, Cruz once argued before the Texas Supreme Court that the issue of how much to spend on education is a “political question that the Texas Constitution assigns to the Texas Legislature and not the courts.” Cruz’s political views, which mirrored Abbott’s, were as ideological and ill-informed then as they are now as a U.S. senator.

# Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Scott Brister, Abbott’s choice for commission chairman, was the only justice to dissent the last time the Supreme Court (in 2005) ordered improvements in the school finance system. That act alone may have won him the chair appointment.

# Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor, a Patrick appointee to the commission, was quoted this week as saying, “We don’t have more money.” Not true. State government has several billion dollars in its Rainy Day savings account and a thriving economy. What’s lacking on the part of Taylor, Abbott, Patrick and too many other like-minded officials in Austin is the political will to do the right thing for the school children of Texas.

# And finally but certainly not least, Sen. Paul Bettencourt of Houston, one of Dan Patrick’s top allies, is chairing the study commission’s subcommittee on revenue. Instead of advocating for more education funding, Bettencourt instead has a history, along with Patrick and Abbott, of promoting the falsehood that local officials are primarily to blame for high property taxes. This argument deliberately denies the reality that property taxes are high because the state does a poor job of funding public schools. The state’s funding effort is so poor that property taxes will soon account for 68 percent of the basic school finance program. Bettencourt has never seemed interested in pursuing the only realistic solution to that problem, which is increased state education funding. So why should we expect that now?

Not so coincidentally, Bettencourt also was an early participant in the campaign to intimidate educators from voting. He asked Attorney General Ken Paxton for the politically motivated, but non-binding opinion, wrongly suggesting it was illegal for educators to encourage other educators and students to vote.

The school finance commission’s deck seems to be stacked, and not for more school funding.




Sponsor of gun law for teachers defeated in Republican primary


One of the seven incumbent legislators unseated in Tuesday’s party primaries was Republican state Rep. Jason Villalba of Dallas, the sponsor of the law that allows a limited number of Texas teachers to be trained as “school marshals” and take guns to school. Fewer than 200 districts, primarily rural districts without police departments, are using the program, enacted in 2013 after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut.

Guns apparently didn’t figure in Villalba’s defeat, though, because he was unseated by a hard-right extremist who loves the Second Amendment. But school privatization may have been a factor. Villalba usually tried to straddle the fence on privatization, and that was bad enough. But Lisa Luby Ryan, the new Republican nominee for the District 114 seat in north Dallas, is a potential nightmare for public schools and educators.

She was supported by ultra-conservative groups, including the Texas Home School Coalition Association and Empower Texans, the campaign dirty trickster group founded by a wealthy voucher advocate and private school founder in West Texas.

Fortunately, this district is a swing district that will be in play politically in November, so voters will have a choice. The Democratic nominee, John Turner, will be a strong advocate for public schools, not privatization. The son of former congressman and state senator Jim Turner, John is an attorney who has represented school districts seeking more state funding for public schools and has been endorsed by TSTA-PAC.