Month: <span>May 2022</span>

Gov. Abbott and other cowardly policymakers would destroy public schools before protecting them

Years ago, in my previous life as a newspaper reporter, I was interviewing a school superintendent in a small West Texas town when the conversation turned to school consolidation. With hundreds of rural and small-town school districts scattered all over the state, that issue comes up periodically.

At one time or another, people have suggested that consolidations of some of these small districts would make for a more-efficient, more cost-effective school system. This superintendent opposed that idea and old me why.

“When you lose your local school or school district, you lose your sense of community,” he said, or words to that effect.

That is because a public school is more than a place of learning. It is the heart of a community, where not only students but also their parents and other community members feel welcome and can come together to support each other and unite in a common cause. It may be a football or basketball game, a PTA meeting, a tutoring session, a graduation ceremony or a potluck fundraising dinner. Whatever the occasion, people identify with the school community, support the students and their teachers and take pride in their accomplishments.

This is especially true in small towns, but schools also can be the hearts of urban and suburban neighborhoods, where identity with schools runs high and community support contributes to student success.

It was true in Uvalde, where community pride was suddenly stricken with overwhelming grief when a gunman killed 19 elementary school children and two of their teachers. They were the latest victims in a plague of senseless mass shootings that cowardly policymakers, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, refuse to address with reasonable gun control laws. They are cowardly because they fear the wrath of the gun lobby and voters who wrongly interpret the Second Amendment, which calls for a “well-regulated militia,” not a gun in everyone’s hand.

Abbott, Patrick, et al avoid the main issue – lax gun laws – by talking about beefing up mental health services, which they have largely ignored, and “hardening schools” – making schools physically more difficult to enter with things such as high fences, more locked doors, more security officers, more security cameras and maybe metal detectors.

One particularly impractical idea, especially for most urban and suburban schools, would be to limit entry to campuses to only one door. Some high schools in Austin have more than 2,000 students, and some schools may be even larger in other Texas cities. How early are the kids supposed to start lining up to pass through the one security entrance? Three a.m.?

Parents would love that, wouldn’t they? And taxpayers would choke on the cost of erecting all the barriers.

Increased campus security may have some merit. But many of these hardening proposals, as well as the dangerous idea of putting more guns into schools by arming teachers, are cop outs. They are excuses for ignoring the real problem policymakers refuse to address – keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. Texas can start by repealing the law that lets an 18-year-old legally purchase a military-style assault rifle, as the 18-year-old Uvalde shooter did.

Turning public schools into fortresses or prisons would destroy the sense of community, described above, which is so important to the learning and socialization process. It would destroy what public education is supposed to be.

And it wouldn’t stop gun violence. It would simply shift the violence to other venues, wherever an armed assailant with an urge to kill and an easily acquired firearm chose to strike next.

Clay Robison

The child abuse from Austin continues

Whose child or family is Gov. Greg Abbott going to terrorize next?

First, he attacked transgender children and their families by ordering state investigations, which could lead to prosecution, for families that provide gender-affirming treatment for their kids. These are some of the same kids, not so incidentally, whom Abbott and his legislative cronies already had kicked off their school sports teams.

The governor’s order to investigate families over private family health care decisions was based on a non-binding and politically motivated “legal” opinion by Attorney General Ken Paxton that gender-affirming care could be considered a form of child abuse. The real child abuse in this instance, however, was committed by Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton.

Now, Abbott is attacking undocumented migrant children by threatening to cut off their life-changing public educations, the difference for many kids between a lifetime of poverty and real opportunity. This is shameful and is also a form of child abuse.

Forty years ago, in issuing its decision in Plyler vs Doe, a landmark case from Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the importance of giving all our children, regardless of immigration status, access to a free public education. The court decision nullified a state law that had allowed Texas districts to refuse admission to undocumented children or charge them tuition, which their families couldn’t afford to pay.

Last week, Abbott, in an interview with a right-wing radio host, suggested the state of Texas should try to get the current Supreme Court to overturn this decision, just as the high court seems poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, another longstanding landmark case from Texas that affirmed a woman’s right to an abortion.

After the governor’s radio comments created an uproar, he has since said the federal government should pay for the costs of educating undocumented immigrant children. But he didn’t completely back off his original statement.

Let’s be clear. Migrant families, including undocumented families, pay their fair share of school taxes. They pay sales and gasoline taxes like everyone else, and when they pay their rent, they are helping their landlords pay their school property taxes. They and their children are not getting a free ride.

Instead of blaming migrant kids and President Biden for Texas’ school budgetary problems, the governor should look in the mirror. He and the legislative majority are to blame for under-funded public schools. During the 2020-21 school year, the state of Texas spent, on average, more than $4,000 less per student in average daily attendance than the national average. This was only two years after the Legislature enacted House Bill 3, the 2019 school finance law that had boosted school funding but just shows how far Texas still has to go in making public education a real priority for every child.

It is sad that the governor of Texas thinks he can win votes for reelection by bullying vulnerable children and their families. It is sadder still that he probably will, unless more voters suddenly find their own kids and families under attack from Austin because the governor found another group of kids to pick on for some political reason.

Clay Robison