Month: <span>September 2018</span>

Don’t remove Helen and Hillary; remove STAAR from classrooms


The latest assault on history by the State Board of Education majority was necessary to give teachers more time to teach, board members say. But there is a much better way to accomplish that goal than by removing Helen Keller, Barry Goldwater or Hillary Clinton from the required curriculum standards. It would be by abolishing the STAAR testing regime or, at least, significantly reducing the amount of time it sucks up from the school day.

I know. The state board isn’t in charge of STAAR testing. The governor and the Legislature are responsible for prolonging that misguided and miserable policy. But if board members really want to give teachers more time to actually teach currculum and not just teach to the test, they should demand that lawmakers drastically reduce the role of STAAR. They could start by writing a letter to the governor and the Legislature.

But despite widespread unhappiness among parents and educators with STAAR, don’t hold your breah that the State Board will take a unified stand against the single biggest curriculum-killer that Texas government has to offer.

Instead, curriculum will continue to be manipulated through a political and ideological lens.

The board at least partially corrected the lie, inserted into the standards in 2010, that slavery was a secondary cause of the Civil War. This time, the board identified slavery as the central cause of the war, but it still promoted the myth that the more-neutral sounding “states’ rights” principal was also to blame. In truth, the only “state right” that provoked secesson was the so-called “right” to own slaves.

Teachers can still teach about Helen Keller, Barry Goldwater and Hillary Clinton. The removal of their names from the standards simply means that teachers won’t be required to include them in their lessons.

In don’t necessarily see partisanship in Helen Keller’s omission, just inexplicability. Keller, who overcame blindness and deafness to publish numerous books, lecture throughout the world and become an inspiration to millions, remains one of the most courageous figures in our nation’s history. Not to teach about her life, her challenges and her accomplishments is a disservice to school children.

I don’t see partisanship in Goldwater’s removal either, although the U.S. senator, Republican presidential nominee and 20th century leader/hero of the conservative movement definitely earned a place in history.

Hillary Clinton’s removal from the curriculum standards, on the other hand, has partisanship written all over it. As the first woman presidential nominee of a major political party, however, her place in history is established, with or without the State Board of Education’s approval.

Carisa Lopez, political director of the Texas Freedom Network, summed up the problem with curriculum decisions in Texas pretty well.

“Once again, we see why politicians rewriting curriculum standards for public schools is just a bad idea,” she said. “You end up with history based on majority vote rather than on facts.”




Abbott and Patrick love those increases in your property taxes


Rising property values and property tax bills may be pricing you out of your home, but Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and their allies in the Legislature don’t care because your local tax bills help them do a couple of things.

First, your school property taxes help them balance the state budget, the entire state budget, not just the public education portion of the budget. They could even use your school taxes to help subsidize incentives for a multi-billion-dollar corporation they are trying to lure to Texas.

And, second, your property taxes help them avoid having to raise the sales tax and other state taxes, so they can keep bragging about being fiscally “responsible.” Sure, it’s a political con game, but they are betting they can get away with it on Election Day.

Here is how Abbott and Patrick have been abusing Texas’ system of using both state and local funds to pay for education.

Not too many years ago, the state used to split the cost of education, more or less, with local property taxpayers. But that has changed. During the years that Abbott and Patrick have been in office, they have allowed the state’s share to continue to slide and the local share to increase. The disparity has reached the point that, according to the Legislative Budget Board, local property taxpayers will be paying 62 percent of the Foundation School Program, the basic school finance plan, and the state will be paying only 38 percent during the current school year.

This growing disparity is facilitated by current law, which Abbott, Patrick and their legislative allies could change but have refused to do so. Instead, they prefer to hide behind it.

The law automatically reduces the state’s share of education funding as local property tax revenue increases. And property tax revenue continues to increase, driven primarily by rising property values. Even if local school boards haven’t raised property tax rates, tax bills in many school districts are increasing anyway because of the higher property values.

The issue is further compounded by the so-called Robin Hood law that requires property-wealthy districts to share revenue with poorer districts. That law, enacted in 1993, was designed to reduce inequities in educational opportunities among districts, but it has become outdated.

The severity of the funding imbalance was highlighted last week when the Texas Education Agency, in a preliminary budget presentation, estimated the state’s share of education funding could drop more than $3.5 billion during the next two-year budget period, primarily because of those rising property values.

That doesn’t have to happen. The governor, the lieutenant governor and the Legislature could change the law. But this governor, this lieutenant governor and a majority of recent Legislatures have refused to do so, and unless new state leaders are elected on Election Day, the law is likely to remain unchanged. And local property taxpayers are going to continue to be hammered.

If the state increased its share of education funding, local property values may continue to rise, but some local school boards could offer real property tax relief by reducing tax rates and overall tax bills.

Abbott and Patrick claim they want to provide property tax “relief,” but they don’t. All they have ever offered are arbitrary restraints to limit the ability of locally elected officials to adequately meet public needs.

They pass the buck for school funding to property taxpayers and the blame for property taxes to local governments. It’s a con game that can only be ended by retiring them and their allies on Election Day.

Vote Education First!



Abbott would rather chase ghosts than boost education funding


The last time I checked, Texas was one of only nine states without a personal income tax, and it is not likely that Texas will enact one during the lifetimes of anyone reading this item because the political opposition is great. But that hasn’t stopped Gov. Greg Abbott from tryng to make the specter of an income tax an issue in his reelection campaign.

When you run out of good ideas, you start making things up, anything to throw red meat to voters who buy Abbott’s myth that public education and other critical services shouldn’t cost a lot of money.

In 1993, the Legislature and Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment to ban a state income tax unless it were approved by a majority of voters in a statewide election. That was 25 years ago, and few elected officials have seriously suggested an income tax since.

The 1993 amendment also provides that should budgetary conditions ever become so dire that voters think an income tax is necessary, then revenue generated by an income tax must be spent to support education. It could even be used to lower school property taxes, which have continued to rise during Abbott’s administration. But Abbott doesn’t like that provision and would wipe it out.

At present, though, an income tax remains a non-issue. Abbott is attacking it simply because it is easier than addressing current, more-important issues the governor should be making a priority. Issues such as figuring out a way to adequately pay for public schools, universities or highways. Issues such as providing affordable health care for educators or a way to actually pay for that fictional “six-figure” teacher salary the governor has been dangling in the headlines.

The 1993 amendment to ban an income tax without voter approval was proposed and promoted by the late Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, a Democrat who only two years earlier had tried to enact an income tax and failed.

Bullock said an income tax was the only way to fairly and adequately pay for public schools and other state needs. He also proposed making local school property taxes deductible from the income tax, and he recommended repeal of the franchise tax, which then was the state’s main business tax.

But he received no support from then-Gov. Ann Richards, a fellow Democrat, and the Legislature,which had a Democratic majority in those days. So, two years later, Bullock trotted out his amendment that effectively removed a personal income tax from political consideration for decades to come. I have always believed that Bullock reversed course because he was up for reelection in 1994 and wanted to repair any political damage he may have suffered with Texas voters over the unpopular issue.

Now, Abbott is playing politics with it.



Abbott “discovers” public education; must be election time


Gov. Greg Abbott is continuing his preelection, “pro-public education” tour, making promises that most Texas educators and parents want to hear but aren’t likely to ever come to pass as long as Abbott remains governor.

He had a recent oped in The Dallas Morning News, which may have run in other newspapers as well, carrying the headline, “Gov. Abbott: Texas must boost school funding.” Yes, Texas certainly needs to do that, but it won’t happen unless we retire Abbott.

Let’s take a look at what the governor says in his oped and contrast that with his record:

What Abbott says now:  Citing the Texas Supreme Court’s latest ruling on the issue, he says the school funding system needs “transformational, top-to-bottom reforms.”

Abbott’s record:  As attorney general, he went to court to defend the current, inadequate funding system, which the Supreme Court upheld, despite its tough rhetoric. And as governor last year, he and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick slammed the door on a bill approved by the House to begin reforming the finance system and increase education funding by $1.8 billion.

What Abbott says now:   “Just throwing more money at a flawed system isn’t going to fix anything.”

Abbott’s record:  State government has never “thrown” money at education, and Abbott hasn’t even sprinkled money on schools. The moldy,  “throwing more money” line is older than Abbott and has always been used as a political excuse to under-fund public schools.

What Abbott says now:  “We need to pay our best teachers more.” (More than $100,000, he says.)

Abbott’s record:  He hasn’t paid any teacher “more.” He floated out a fake “teacher pay raise” before a special legislative session last year but never proposed a way to pay for it, and he still hasn’t, despite all his talk about six-figure teacher salaries. And those “best teachers” he is talking about singling out now would be determined by STAAR test scores. Meanwhile, average teacher pay in Texas is $7,300 less than the national average.

What Abbott says now: “We need to…reduce the burden of skyrocketing property taxes.” To help do that, he proposes forcing local governments to lower tax rates as property values rise.

Abbott’s record:  School property taxes are rising mainly because of rising property values. But school boards would be able to reduce property tax rates now and lower the overall property tax load if the state increased its share of school funding. Instead, Abbott and his legislative allies have consistenly under-funded public education, and school boards can’t cut tax rates. So the local share of the Foundation School Program has continued to rise during Abbott’s term as governor and is projected to hit 62 percent this year, while the state’s share drops to 38 percent, according to the Legislative Budget Board.

What Abbott says now:  We must “ensure (educators) retirements are sound and health care costs are contained.”

Abbott’s record:  Texas’ rate of contribution to TRS pensions is one of the lowest in the country. And Abbott and his allies have repeatedly ignored educators’ pleas to increase the state’s contribution to health care premiums for school employees.

“The state must increase its responsibility for education funding,” Abbott writes in his oped.

That has been obvious throughout the governor’s entire term, but he has never proposed a concrete way to do that and instead has always supported restrictions on state spending.

Has Abbott experienced a pre-election conversion?

No. But he is trying to get your vote, and if you believe him now, I suspect you also believe in fairy tales.

Vote Education First!