Bill Hammond

Worry about school funding, not test scores


The state’s most prominent business group – which thinks excessive testing is more important to academic success than adequate school funding – is hyperventilating again. This time, it is because the Texas Legislature and some school districts gave a few thousand high school seniors the opportunity to graduate without passing all their end-of-course exams.

The students passed at least three of the five EOC exams, successfully completed all their required coursework and were deemed deserving of their diplomas by their teachers and principals. But in the eyes of the Texas Association of Business (TAB), the sky is once again falling on public education in Texas.

In truth, one of the biggest obstacles to public education in Texas is the Texas Association of Business and similar special interest groups that keeping wringing their hands over test scores while doing nothing to convince the legislative majority to adequately fund public schools.

In 2011, TAB did little, if anything, to discourage the legislative majority from slashing $5.4 billion from school budgets and was mostly silent while thousands of school employees lost their jobs and thousands of students were shoved into overcrowded classrooms.

During last spring’s session, even though many school districts haven’t recovered from the 2011 cuts, TAB successfully lobbied for a multi-billion-dollar cut in future business taxes – an important source of education funding – while lawmakers left several billion additional tax dollars unspent in the bank. TAB also supported the new A-F grading system for school campuses, which will do little more than stigmatize low-income students who suffer the most from inadequate school funding.

But whenever students in under-funded classrooms turn in lackluster STAAR scores, you can count on the folks at TAB to wail, professing more concern about the accountability of third-graders than they do about the accountability of legislators.

And, now they are wailing over the initial results of a new law to let some high school seniors graduate if they fail one or two of the five required end-of-course tests, provided that is the only obstacle to their graduation. That have to complete all their other required coursework and be approved by a special graduation committee that includes the student’s principal, the teacher of the course for which the student failed the EOC exam, a curriculum department chair and a parent or guardian.

The law, which went into effect last spring and will expire after the 2016-17 school year, if the Legislature doesn’t renew it, is a good idea. Since last spring’s graduating class was the first required to pass the EOC tests, Gov. Greg Abbott said it was important to protect students from being penalized by “evolving test standards.”

In reality, the Legislature needs to do even more to reduce the state’s punitive regime of over-testing. But the Texas Association of Business wasn’t pleased with the new, limited law and attempted to survey the largest 100 school districts to see how many graduates got a waiver from passing all the EOC tests. Seventy-eight districts responded, and 71 percent of the 5,578 students who sought the waiver received permission to graduate. TAB President Bill Hammond called that a “shockingly high number.”

Hammond predicted that more students will figure out how to “game the system” and graduate unprepared for college or the work force.

But if Hammond and other business leaders really care about the qualifications of high school graduates, they wouldn’t be as alarmed about kids potentially “gaming” the testing system as they are about the legislative majority under-nourishing the entire educational system with inadequate funding. That’s the bottom line.


Missing the point on school ratings


Bill Hammond, CEO of the Texas Association of Business, was at it again the other day, wringing his hands over what he views as the lackluster performance of Texas public schools. This time, his forum was an oped article in the Lufkin News, in which he questioned the most recent school accountability standards announced by the Texas Education Agency.

Clearly, he didn’t believe TEA’s claim that about 85 percent of the state’s public schools are “meeting standards.”

“Schools are certainly not meeting the standards of employers,” he wrote, calling for a stronger accountability system for schools.

What Hammond refuses to acknowledge, though, is that a strong public education system is not built on tougher tests for students. It is built on good teachers (Texas has those) and adequate funding for schools, which is where state government fails, in large part because of groups like his.

For years, the Texas Association of Business and other like-minded business and trade associations in this state have had three main priorities – keeping state regulation of their businesses weak, making it next to impossible for unhappy customers to sue them and keeping state business taxes low. And, they have been very successful at realizing all three.

But what about public education? Don’t businesses need strong schools to keep supplying highly trained workers for the future? They surely do, and many businesspeople realize that. But business leadership in Austin – or at least most of it – has for years been propping up and perpetuating short-sighted state government policy that shortchanges our children’s schools.

Most of the business lobby, including Hammond’s group, stood mostly silent while the legislative majority slashed $5.4 billion from public school budgets three years ago. Hammond, for one, has seemed much more concerned about keeping the pressure on kids to pass standardized tests than he has been about the $500 per student that was lost in state funding because of those cuts.

And, now the Texas Association of Business has endorsed education budget-cutters for the state’s top two offices and many legislative seats. Dan Patrick, the group’s candidate for lieutenant governor, voted for the school budget cuts in 2011, and Attorney General Greg Abbott, whom TAB is supporting in the governor’s race, continues to defend the cuts in court.

Of course, Hammond’s complaints about school accountability ratings could be part of a broader campaign to convince Texans that their neighborhood schools – now that they have been starved of financial resources — are a failure. The purpose of that campaign would be to win more public support for transferring tax dollars from traditional neighborhood schools to corporate charters and private schools — supported by tax-paid vouchers — all for the benefit of educational profiteers and not necessarily school kids.

Those ideas are exactly what Dan Patrick has been openly promoting for a long time and Abbott has been more quietly suggesting.

Just last week, the Texas Tribune reported that Patrick was still applying “his low-spending mentality to education.”

And, yet all the CEO of the Texas Association of Business can seem to fret about is low test scores.








Trying to undermine, not “reform” public schools


Texas Association of Business President Bill Hammond is at it again, pretending to advocate for strong public schools while doing his best to undermine them. His latest effort is an oped in today’s Dallas Morning News, in which he complains about District Judge John Dietz’s recent ruling in the school finance case that public schools are inadequately funded.

He particularly takes issue with Dietz’s suggestion that it will require an additional $2,000 per child, at least, to fully fund all the state’s requirements for the public schools.

Not only is Hammond’s reasoning wrong, but so are his alleged “facts.”

He claims Texas already is spending $10,000 per student and claims that Texas has been “spending more money on education for a decade, even including last session’s cuts.” Both parts of his assertion are flat wrong.

In the 2010-11 school year, Texas spent $9,446 per child in average daily attendance. Following the $5.4 billion in budget cuts imposed by Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative majority in 2011, spending per child plunged to $8,908, placing Texas 45th among the states and the District of Columbia, according to estimates and rankings by the National Education Association (NEA). That was a cut of more than $500 per child while school enrollment across Texas was growing by about 80,000 a year. Adding another $2,000 per child, as Judge Dietz suggested, wouldn’t even bring Texas up to the national average of $11,463 per child.

Adding insult to his factual errors, Hammond and the Texas Association of Business have been longtime political supporters of Gov. Perry and many of the legislators who voted for the cuts, which cost 11,000 teaching jobs in the 2011-12 school year alone and crammed thousands of students into overcrowded classrooms. TAB continues to support Perry and many of the other education-cutters today.

Now that the Legislature has an $8.8 billion surplus and a Rainy Day Fund balance of $11.8 billion – more than $20 billion – to help write a new state budget, Hammond and TAB should be joining with the Texas State Teachers Association and other public school supporters – real as opposed to pseudo – and demanding that their buddies in the governor’s office and the legislative majority restore the school funding.

Hammond reminds us that tax dollars – no fooling — are our money. But regardless how the Texas Supreme Court eventually may rule on an appeal of Judge Dietz’s ruling, the 2011 school budget cuts can be restored right now without raising one extra dime of taxpayers’ money.

TAB apparently isn’t interested in restoring school funding. Instead, Hammond was first in line with his hand held out when the governor proposed that some of the $20 billion could be spent on special interest tax breaks instead. Hammond proposed cuts in the business franchise tax, which already is under-performing and was a major cause of the financial problems that resulted in last session’s budget cuts.

TAB’s idea of strengthening the public schools is to demand that students, beginning in third-grade, continue to be subjected to a battery of high-stakes standardized tests that do little more than rob students and their teachers of valuable classroom learning time. TAB also insists that schools be more “efficient” as if efficiency can be manufactured out of thin air as school budgets are cut and teachers are fired.

Hammond proposes at-will employment of teachers and classroom size flexibility. School districts already have both. What they don’t have, as Judge Dietz has soundly concluded after weeks of hearing evidence, is enough money to assure that all of Texas’ children will have enough resources to succeed.



Business group seeks tax cuts instead of school money


The Texas Association of Business (TAB) loves to hold news conferences and issue press releases about improving quality in the public schools, but now it’s time for the organization to put its money where its rhetoric has long been.

The legislative leadership has announced budget proposals that fail to restore the $5.4 billion slashed from public education two years ago. And, Gov. Rick Perry – the budget-cutter-in-chief and a longtime beneficiary of TAB’s political support – is even promoting the idea of using a vastly improved revenue picture to reduce taxes instead of repairing the damage to public schools.

Is the TAB leadership lining up with educators and other people who actually do support the public schools and demanding that the funding that was cut last session – more than $500 per student – be restored? That would be the right thing for TAB to do, of course, since our state’s employers – like our children – have much to lose if the governor and the legislative majority were to be allowed to continue to hack away at public education.

Alas, TAB has been silent on the budget cuts. But TAB President and CEO Bill Hammond has quickly endorsed the governor’s tax-cut idea and has jumped to the head of the line with his hand held out. According to the Quorum Report, Hammond is proposing his own plan for about $4 billion in tax cuts for business, including reductions in the franchise tax.

Keep in mind this is the same franchise tax that already has been notoriously underperforming and has never come close to replacing the revenue lost to the local school property tax cuts that the governor engineered in 2006. Hammond’s proposal would dig an even deeper budgetary hole for the public schools.

If Hammond really wants to help the cause of public education – and the future of Texas’ business community – he should demand that the Legislature bust its artificially low spending cap and, if necessary, dig into the $11.8 billion Rainy Day Fund to restore the cuts to the schools, health care and other important state services that were inflicted in 2011.

Hammond needs to understand that strong public schools require a lot more than demanding, as he frequently does, that students be bombarded with high-stakes standardized tests.