Month: January 2020

Want to take the steam out of the school privatization effort?

This is “School Choice Week” in Texas, so proclaimed by Gov. Greg Abbott, but this is less about parental choice, as Abbott and his allies would have you believe, than about a growing nationwide effort to divert billions of additional tax dollars to enrich private school owners and charter school operators. And the campaign has picked up steam with an education commissioner in Texas who prefers to promote charters rather than regulate them and a right-wing ideological bloc on the U.S. Supreme Court that seems eager to open state treasuries to private religious schools.

But educators and parents who truly value public schools – real public schools – can still have the final say, and the final say is more than grousing or hand-wringing. The final say is voting, voting in large numbers and voting for genuine, pro-public education candidates for the Legislature, school board and other key offices.

Sound simple? It is. But it requires a lot of work persuading other teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, parents and other people who value our neighborhood public schools to register to vote, go to the polls and not be derailed by other issues or deceived by candidates who claim to be pro-education but fully support the privatization agenda. During this election cycle alone, our school privatization foes will be spending millions of dollars promoting candidates who supposedly will campaign for school children but, if elected, will vote for vouchers and charter expansion.

Even as we prepare for the March 3 party primaries, which will kick off the election season in Texas, Education Commissioner Mike Morath is proposing the relaxation of rules that will make it easier for charter chains to expand in Texas, without regard for their necessity or the financial impact on school districts, which already are losing about $3 billion a year to charter schools.

Meanwhile, many educators fear that a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to approve the expenditure of tax dollars (vouchers) for private religious schools, overriding constitutional restrictions in many states, including Texas, against spending public money to benefit religious institutions. It all depends on the outcome of a case from Montana, which the high court heard last week and is expected to decide later this year.

The solution for Texas to any adverse Supreme Court ruling is to continue to hold the line against vouchers for any type of private school, religious or secular. The only way to do that is to elect state legislators who will continue to vote against vouchers.

The only way to curb Commissioner Morath’s advocacy for charter chains is to elect legislators who will enact tough laws clamping down on charter expansion in Texas and clamping down on any attempt by the commissioner to water-down those laws.

TSTA has endorsed pro-public education candidates, both Democrats and Republicans, for the Legislature and other state offices in the March 3 party primaries. Here they are. Our only issue is education, and we will be making more endorsements before the general election.

If you are not registered to vote, please do so before the Feb. 3 registration deadline. Here is how to do that.

If you are already registered and live in House District 28 in Fort Bend County, please vote tomorrow (Tuesday, Jan. 28) for Eliz Markowitz in the special election runoff for an empty Texas House seat. Eliz is the pro-public education candidate in that race.

Educators elected pro-public education candidates for the Legislature in 2018, and lawmakers responded with several billion dollars in additional state education funding in 2019. If we want our voices heard again during the 2021 session, we have to turn out in force again and keep electing pro-public school candidates this year.

As we are reminded by “School Choice Week,” we still have a lot of work to do.

Clay Robison

How a charter can be “high performing” without hiring teachers with college degrees

There are several ways in which Education Commissioner Mike Morath’s proposed charter proliferation rules threaten public education and the taxpayers who pay for it. I am referring to the relaxed standards by which an existing charter operator could be deemed “high-performing” and allowed to open new campuses.

One standard is so relaxed it would allow charters to hire teachers without college degrees and still be considered “high performing.”

Charters would be rated under a new “performance framework,” and those charter holders that score 80 percent or more on the framework would virtually be given carte blanche freedom to open new campuses without considering the academic need for the new schools or the negative financial impact on the school districts in which the new campuses were located.

The proposed penalty, if you want to call it that, for a charter chain that breaks the law and hires teachers without college degrees would be the loss of only one point – one point — on the commissioner’s new performance framework. Not only could the charter continue to operate, but it also could expand, provided it met enough other requirements to meet the required score of 80.

As my colleague, TSTA policy specialist Carrie Griffith, testified in a hearing against the rules changes, the same charter chain “could replicate across the state and might even erect a $20,000 taxpayer-funded billboard promising ‘highly qualified teachers.’”

Carrie also pointed out that a charter chain that fails to meet federal requirements for special populations or English learners also could be rated “high performing” and allowed to replicate because those failed responsibilities, which are critical to thousands of Texas school children, are worth only one point to the commissioner’s office. That’s the size of the proposed penalty anyway.

And what about a charter school that fails to file PEIMS data in a timely manner or fails to handle STAAR materials or student records promptly? Again, the penalty is just one point.

“It is almost absurd that this is where we’ve come with all this, but it is the recommendation of the Texas State Teachers Association that charter schools in the state of Texas not be allowed to break the law,” Carrie testified. “At minimum, their statutory compliance should be a threshold requirement for being allowed to submit an amendment, especially one for expansion.”

The commissioner has not yet made a final decision on these rules, but if they remain unchanged, they will let charters proliferate almost like flies.

You can swat flies. But unnecessary charters will keep sucking up tax dollars from an underfunded public education system.