Month: <span>July 2018</span>

Trying to defend the indefensible – Dan Patrick and high property taxes


As state senators in 2011, Dan Patrick and Glenn Hegar both voted for a state budget that slashed $5.4 billion in state funding from public education, thereby increasing pressure on local property taxpayers to fund schools. Now, Patrick, as lieutenant governor, and Hegar, as state comptroller, both claim to be concerned – wink, wink, nod, nod – that property taxes are so high.

Patrick’s phony “concern” is already well-known. Every time the Legislature meets, he proposes an unrealistic, political scheme to tie the hands of local elected officials, who set property tax rates to meet local needs, while blaming them for the property tax mess. In truth, Patrick is the culprit, ramming through state budgets that deliberately under-fund public education and transfer increasing amounts of the school funding burden to property taxes.

Ever since Patrick and his comrade-in-school neglect, Gov. Greg Abbott, have held the state’s top two offices, the state’s share of funding public education has steadily declined, while the share borne by local property taxpayers has risen. During the upcoming school year, the state share of the Foundation School Program will fall to 38 percent, while the local share will rise to 62 percent, the Legislative Budget Board has projected.

Mike Collier, Patrick’s TSTA-endorsed election opponent, called out the lieutenant governor for his false property tax relief claims in a recent oped in the Texas Tribune.  “To put it in Texas language, Dan Patrick keeps raising property taxes and lying about it,” Collier wrote.

Hegar then hurried to Patrick’s defense with a Tribune oped of his own, in which he claimed to “set the record straight” about Patrick and property taxes. He discussed the law governing how property values are determined for school districts and suggested that alone was the main reason that property taxes are so high.

Rising property values, of course, are a major factor in rising property tax levels. But Hegar neglected to point out that school boards could lower property tax rates and the overall property tax burden if Patrick, Abbott and their legislative allies would change the outdated school finance system and increase state funding for education. Patrick slammed the door on that idea as recently as last year, which was the last time the Legislature met.

Patrick has no credibility as a property tax reducer, and Hegar is damaging his every time he comes to Patrick’s defense.

Vote Education First!


Patrick shoots down idea to protect schools


Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says he wants to protect students and educators from gun violence, but his first priority is keeping the firearms industry happy. Gov. Greg Abbott also is a major promoter of firearms, but in the days immediately following the shootings at Santa Fe High School, Abbott at least proposed that the Legislature consider enacting a red flag law to try to keep guns out of the hands of the most dangerous people. Now, he apparently is retreating.

In the realm of “gun control,” a red flag law would be modest but potentially effective in isolated cases. Such a law would make it easier for judges to issue orders removing or blocking access to firearms for people who have been legally determined to be potentially dangerous to themselves or others, such as people with some mental issues or individuals involved in incidents of domestic violence.

Patrick instructed a Senate committee to hold a public hearing on the red flag proposal, but it apparently was only to give gun owners the opportunity to flock to the Capitol to remind senators what a bad idea they thought a red flag law was. Once the show was over, Patrick announced that he intended to kill the legislation next session. (He is assuming he will be reelected in November, and he will be if educators don’t get out in force and vote for Patrick’s opponent, Mike Collier, for lieutenant governor.)

“I have never supported these (red flag) policies, nor has the majority of the Texas Senate,” Patrick said.

Patrick also said Abbott was backing off his red flag proposal, and the governor, who seldom lets political courage dictate his performance, may be. Following complaints from conservatives and leaders in his own party, Abbott already had indicated, in a tweet, that his resolve – if he ever had any – to see the Legislature enact a red flag law was melting.

Patrick and Abbott would rather keep the firearms industry happy, as well as the thousands of Texas voters who believe that the Second Amendment allows no room for common sense or public safety. Remember, both have proposed arming more teachers, a dangerous idea that would allow the gun industry to sell even more guns but wouldn’t effectively reduce gun violence in schools.

After the Santa Fe shootings, Abbott and Patrick also proposed making school facilities more secure against armed intruders and improving mental health services for students, ideas that have merit but are very expensive. Neither has proposed a substantial source of funding to help budget-strapped school districts implement these ideas, and, given their history of shortchanging public education, they aren’t likely to.

State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, who tried but failed to get a red flag law enacted last year, reacted to Patrick’s opposition. “There are some very disturbed people who shouldn’t have guns, at least temporarily, and we believe we can devise a way to identify them fairly and constitutionally while protecting Second Amendment rights,” Moody said.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick states opposition to “red flag” gun laws





Playing politics with history and education


You may recall that not too many years ago a majority on the State Board of Education brought ridicule upon themselves and the state of Texas by writing curriculum standards for Texas students that downplayed slavery as the cause of the Civil War.

Slavery is cited throughout the Texas secession declaration, adopted in 1861, and the document makes clear that slavery was the reason Texas left the Union to join the other southern states preparing for war over the same issue.

The board majority, however, chose to play politics with history and with education, and now Gov. Greg Abbott, in his own way, is doing the same thing. The governor doesn’t write curriculum standards, but he has been presented with an opportunity to make a strong political statement for historical accuracy and scholarship and so far has refused to do so.

Last year, a legislator called Abbott’s attention to the fact that a plaque on public display in the state Capitol also denied that slavery was a major cause of the Civil War. The plaque, sponsored by Confederate descendants and apologists, was erected in 1959, years after the South had lost the war. It was erected, instead, during the early years of the civil rights movement, perhaps as a pushback against the descendants of slaves who were still fighting for the political and civil justices they had long been denied by the descendants of secessionists.

The legislator, state Rep. Eric Johnson of Dallas, an African American Democrat, brought his concerns to Abbott in a private meeting last October, nine months ago, and asked that the State Preservation Board, which the governor chairs, remove the plaque. Johnson has since been joined by 40 other legislators, including some members of the governor’s own party, but the plaque remains.

Among the state leadership, only House Speaker Joe Straus has called for its removal. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick hasn’t weighed in. And Abbott’s office said the plaque’s future will have to be determined by the Legislature because the Legislature authorized its placement in the Capitol in the first place. That may be so, but that doesn’t prohibit the governor from exercising leadership and demanding that lawmakers remove the plaque after they convene in January.

Instead, Abbott remains silent. What is he afraid of?

Does he disagree with historians and educators? Is he content to perpetuate a lie for Capitol visitors to see? Is he afraid of offending Confederate descendants? Or is he afraid of racists who want to undo the civil rights gains of the past 60 years? Racists, after all, do vote, they have been emboldened by President Trump and this is an election year.

The State Board of Education is taking another look at the history curriculum standards this year, giving it another chance to be honest with school children. The governor, meanwhile, has a chance to publicly refute a lie and show school children and their parents some political courage.

45 Texas lawmakers in favor of removing Confederate plaque; Abbott mum

When you don’t want to pay for schools, talk nonsense


There are many obstacles to public education in the Texas Legislature, and one is Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas, who opened his mouth this week in a committee hearing on improving school security and delivered nonsense.

Nonsense, of course, is not a rare commodity in the halls of the state Capitol, but Huffines’ refusal to acknowledge the reality of budget-strapped school districts was particularly galling.

A study committee, of which Huffines is a member, was discussing how putting more counselors and psychologists in public schools could help prevent school violence. Experts believe expanded mental health services for students could help identify and address potential problems before they erupt in another school shooting or some other outburst of violence.

Largely because of state under-funding, however, most school districts have a serious shortage of counselors and psychologists. According to testimony before the committee, Texas has about 12,500 school counselors and 1,934 school psychologists to serve about 5.4 million students.

That’s about one counselor for every 430 students, and one psychologist for every 2,800 students. Moreover, many of those counselors are spending much of their time helping kids pass STAAR tests and college entrance exams to the exclusion of about everything else.

Huffines, however, denies that funding is a problem. He is an ally of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick who believes that public schools don’t need more money and instead should give up some of their funding for privatization schemes like vouchers.

“School districts are capable, certainly have the authority to hire more counselors,” Huffines said. “The Legislature doesn’t necessarily need to be involved. It could be involved, but this issue could also be taken at the ISD level because they have complete discretion.”

Yes, senator, districts have the discretion to hire more counselors by firing more teachers and cramming more kids into overcrowded classrooms. Or maybe they could start charging kids to ride the bus or double the price of school lunches – for those children who can afford to pay.

Or maybe they just could quit buying textbooks and computers. Do they really need textbooks or computers when they have discretion?

School districts also could raise local property taxes, something that Huffines would be sure to attack them for.

Discretion can’t close the state funding gap. Only the Legislature can do that, and as long as people like Don Huffines are in the legislative majority, that won’t happen.

Huffines purportedly represents state Senate District 16 in Dallas County. Fortunately, District 16 voters who really value public education will have some discretion – real discretion — in the November election. They can Vote Education First and replace Huffines with Nathan Johnson.

Nathan Johnson is an education advocate and school volunteer who has been endorsed by TSTA-PAC. He will fight for adequate funding for public schools and not pretend that “discretion” alone can pay for increased school security or other education programs.

Texas senators agree on the need for school mental health services, but can they fund it?