Author: suem

Relief for retired educators a hostage to governor’s efforts to dumb down Texas

Gov. Greg Abbott claims he wants to help retired educators by putting an extra pension check on the special session’s agenda, but he would have more credibility with the education community were he not so intent on dumbing down Texas.

Many retired educators are suffering financially. The average Teacher Retirement System annuitant receives just $2,118 per month, and 31 percent of them receive less than $1,000. Those who retired since 2004 have never had a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to account for inflation. Earlier retirees haven’t had a COLA in eight years.

About 96 percent of public education employees in Texas are not covered by Social Security, making TRS the sole source of retirement income for many.

Despite the great need, though, relieving the financial stress of retired educators is not near the top of Abbott’s priority list. If it were, he would have joined forces with a bipartisan group of legislators who were pushing for an extra pension check or a COLA during the recent regular session and used his bully-pulpit to demand that legislators enact one or the other.

But he didn’t. He didn’t actively advocate for retirees, and he let both a 13th check bill and a COLA bill die in the House. A 13th check will cost about $700 million, and the Legislature had the money. Budget writers left several billion dollars in the Rainy Day Fund at the end of the session.

Abbott now is using the issue as a political ploy during the special session. He tacked the extra check onto the session’s agenda in the hope of peeling off some of the retirees’ votes for his reelection effort next year — assuming they all can still vote if lawmakers enact his first priority, the voter suppression bill.

Aided, abetted and/or goaded by allies such as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Abbott will keep his political base ginned up over the lie that the voting restrictions are necessary to protect voting “integrity,” when, in truth, he considers the restrictions essential to keeping himself and his fellow dumb-downers in office. They fear the electorate at-large. They don’t want the “wrong” people, the majority of Texans who don’t think like them, to vote.

These dumb-downers are the politicians throughout the country who encourage the anti-vaxxers and ignore the scientists during a pandemic and continue to deny climate change because they are afraid and/or incapable of making the difficult choices necessary to address it.

You think Abbott was inept during the snowpocalypse? Small wonder.

Another one of the governor’s dumb-down priorities also is more important to him than retired teachers during this special session. This is the new anti-education bill to intimidate teachers into downplaying or ignoring the systemic racism that has plagued our country’s history and still impacts our society today. This is more than dumbing down. It is whitewashing.

This proposed law, at least the version advancing in the Senate, is even worse than the similar law Abbott signed at the end of the regular session. It would remove from the earlier law a curriculum requirement that students at least learn that white supremacy is “morally wrong.”

Most of the Democrats in the Texas House fled to Washington, D.C., to keep the House from having the quorum necessary to pass the voting suppression bill. If they don’t return before the session ends in a couple of weeks, other bills, including the 13th check for retired educators, also will die, and Abbott and his allies will blame the Democrats for killing financial relief for retirees. The governor, however, is ultimately to blame because he refused to make the financial plight of retirees an emergency during the regular session and now is holding their relief hostage to legislation to make it more difficult for eligible voters, including retirees, to vote.

Who knows how many more special sessions Abbott may end up calling this year? He plans to call at least one more in the fall for political redistricting. If he truly is committed to helping retirees, he will add the 13th check or, better yet, a COLA to the redistricting session’s agenda — or to the agenda of any other special session he may call. If he really wants to help retirees, he will quit holding them hostage.

Clay Robison

Racism, not teaching about it, produces trauma

The right-wing campaign to suppress what children are taught about racism and limit efforts to promote diversity in our public schools was, of course, a topic of discussion last weekend at the Conservative Political Action Committee’s (CPAC) gathering in Dallas, an event where truth was an optional agenda item.

Seeking to fan the flames of fear and ignorance among some parents, Carroll ISD board member Hannah Smith addressed a CPAC session about the Texas campaign to whitewash history, which already has produced one law restricting teachers and also is on Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session agenda.

Smith, whose opposition to a diversity effort in Carroll ISD propelled her successful campaign for the school board, told her audience to “imagine the trauma that we’re inflicting on our school-age kids when we teach them that just because you’re born white means that you are inherently a racist.”

That is not what Texas teachers are teaching their students. Texas teachers are teaching their students that racism was a part of Texas and American history and is an issue that continues to plague our society today. The victims of racism were and are the trauma victims, not the white children who may be learning about racism and what it really means for the first time in school.

Children need to know about all of our history, the dark side as well as the positive. That is what public education is supposed to be about. By knowing the truth about racism, maybe the next generation will do a better job addressing it than previous generations have.

Carroll ISD is in Southlake, a suburban city in Tarrant County. Sixty-three percent of the district’s students are white, well above the 27 percent of white students in public schools statewide. Only 9.8 percent of Carroll’s students are Hispanic and 2 percent Black, although Hispanic and Black students combined comprise a majority of statewide public school enrollment.

But the demographics are changing in Carroll, and some students have complained of being bullied because of their race, religion or sexual orientation. With the help of students, parents and other members of the community, the district had begun putting together a plan to address the growing diversity.

According to The Dallas Morning News, it called for the district to hire a director of equity and inclusion, require cultural competency training and establish a grievance system through which students could report discrimination. The plan, which opponents called a “left-wing agenda,” was the overwhelming issue in last spring’s school board elections and was put on indefinite hold after Smith and a second new member were elected.

Smith and her supporters scored a political victory for ignorance and denial, and Carroll ISD students were the losers.

Clay Robison

HB3979 was enacted to whitewash racism, not address critical race theory

Critical race theory is not the reason the legislative majority enacted HB3979, the new anti-education law, despite what Gov. Greg Abbott and the law’s other supporters claim. The law’s real purpose is broader and more sinister.

Critical race theory is an intellectual belief, which has been around for a long time, holding that the law and legal institutions in this country are inherently racist in the sense that they function to maintain social, economic and political inequalities between white people and people of color, particularly Black Americans. People who subscribe to this theory say it explains why racial inequalities still exist long after civil rights laws and court rulings outlawed discrimination.

Critical race theory is not a political agenda, and it is not taught in Texas public schools.

HB3979, however, is the product of a national, right-wing political agenda, and its real purpose is to intimidate teachers into whitewashing the racism that has plagued our nation’s history and downplaying the results of racism today. These results include, but are not limited to, inequities in funding our public schools and the abuse by police of many Americans, often with fatal consequences, for the alleged “crime” of being Black. These realities make many people, including our governor, uncomfortable, but they must be addressed, not ignored.

This effort to whitewash history became a priority of then-President Donald Trump after The New York Times published its “1619 Project,” which shined a strong light on the role that slavery played in the founding of our country and slavery’s lasting impact on the systemic racism that was to lead, a few months later, to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, under the knee of a white police officer.

Floyd’s death precipitated angry protests throughout the country by the Black Lives Matter movement and Americans of all colors. The vast majority of demonstrators were peaceful. But a few opportunists resorted to violence, and Trump, seeking reelection, focused on them as he pushed back, portraying himself as the “law and order” candidate and ignoring the tragedy of racism.

Trump attacked The New York Times slavery project and started talking up the creation of a “1776 Commission” to counter what he falsely claimed were efforts to divide Americans on race and teach children to “hate their own country.” And he – one of the most divisive presidents in American history — started using critical race theory, which I doubt he even understands, as a partisan lightning rod.

In a final campaign gesture to the ignorance and prejudices among his core supporters, Trump issued an executive order on the day before Election Day, creating the “1776 Commission” to promote “patriotic education” and counter historical accounts that he said had “vilified” the nation’s founders, many of whom were slave-owners.

President Biden promptly abolished the commission after taking office, but the idea lives on in many Republican-leaning states, where allegiance to – or fear of — Trump remains strong. In Texas, it has taken the form of HB3979 and HB2497, another new law that Abbott recently signed to create the “Texas 1836 Project.” This second law creates a nine-member committee charged with increasing awareness of the state’s history, including its independence from Mexico in 1836, and promote what the governor and Trump call “patriotic education.”

The panel will be responsible for helping state agencies ensure that the 1836 message is provided to visitors to state parks, museums, battlefields and other landmarks. The law’s language tracks language in Trump’s now-defunct order for the “1776 Commission” to ensure that a “patriotic education” would be offered to the public.

It is not clear that the 1836 message of independence that Abbott wants conveyed will include the fact that the preservation of slavery was one of the reasons the Texas colonists revolted against Mexico, which prohibited the practice.

So far, it doesn’t look as if HB2497 will directly affect Texas’ public schools, but HB3979 will.

By whitewashing history, limiting classroom discussions about current events and discouraging student participation in political activities, HB3979 will impede the development of the critical learning skills so important for a young person’s future success. And it threatens to leave the next generation of Texans poorly informed about the reasons for the racial inequities that still plague their state and country and poorly prepared to address them.

Gov. Abbott says he wants the Legislature to continue to address critical race theory in a special session he intends to call later this year. That probably means he has ideas for making the new law even worse. The only remaining thing the Legislature should do with this law is repeal it.

Clay Robison

Giving lip service to patriotism

I hope it was only a coincidence that Gov. Greg Abbott chose June 7, the day after the 77th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, to sign a law creating the “1836 project” to promote what he calls “patriotic education.”

More than 2,500 real American patriots, including many Texans, died on the beaches at Normandy on D-Day to help liberate Europe and eventually end World War II. Abbott’s new 1836 project has nothing to do with patriotism or education. It is merely another dose of Texas chauvinism that will do nothing to improve the lives of the governor’s constituents.

The new law, HB2497, creates a nine-person committee that will be charged with increasing awareness of the state’s history, including its independence from Mexico (hence the 1836 modifier), and advising the governor on how the “core principles” of Texas’ founding “enrich the lives of its residents.”

The panel also will be responsible for helping state agencies ensure that the 1836 message is provided to visitors to state parks, museums, battlefields and other landmarks. So far, this new endeavor isn’t expected to directly affect public schools, which already are required to teach Texas history at specific grade levels. The school curriculum includes the revolution as well as the exploration, exploitation and settlement period before 1836.

But the Texas Education Agency will be required to provide funding and support for the new program, including for pamphlets to be distributed to new Texans getting drivers licenses, pamphlets that soon will be tossed into the nearest trash cans.

It has been estimated the new law will cost nearly $2.3 million over the next two years, tax money to brag about Texas. Tax money that would be better spent on real educational costs in public schools or finding health care for some of the millions of low-income Texans who don’t have Medicaid and can’t afford to see a doctor.

Compounding the political crime is the fact that the same governor who signed this law will soon sign another law, HB3979, which is designed to whitewash the teaching of history in the public schools. It will discourage instruction and discussion about our history of racism and slavery, which was one of the reasons the Texas colonists brought the 1836 revolution against Mexico, which prohibited the practice.

There is nothing patriotic about denying, deemphasizing or ignoring historic truths, even if the governor and many other Texans find them uncomfortable today.

And, of course, there is nothing patriotic about trying to enact laws to impede the ability of millions of Texans, including people of color, to cast ballots for the political candidates of their choice. This is a raw attempt to cling to political power.

Yet, this is what the governor, the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House – the three officials who will appoint the members of the new 1836 committee – spent much of the recent legislative session trying to do. Having failed the first time, Gov. Abbott will add the voter suppression bill to the agenda of a special legislative session later this year, even though a free and open voting system is at the very heart of true patriotism. It is what countless American patriots have died for over the years.

There are people who practice real patriotism. The D-Day invaders come to mind. And there are people who practice lip-service patriotism, like the governor is doing now.

Clay Robison