Dan Patrick

School funding still comes up short


No doubt about it, $3.9 billion is a lot of money. But anyone who may think that it is going to take the state off the hook in the school finance lawsuit is engaging in wishful thinking. Either that, or they are betting the Texas Supreme Court eventually will undercut public schools with an ideological decision perpetrating the myth that money doesn’t make a difference in educational quality.

TSTA and other public school advocates are pleased that the Legislature restored $3.9 billion of the $5.4 billion cut from public education in 2011. And, we are grateful to the parents and school employees who contacted their legislators and helped ensure the partial recovery. But the appropriation is still $1.5 billion less than schools were receiving two years ago, while enrollment has grown by about 170,000 statewide since that time – and is still growing. And, the Legislature left $8 billion of taxpayer money unspent in the Rainy Day Fund.

Assuming Gov. Rick Perry doesn’t figure out a way to veto any of the $3.9 billion – and that may be a rash assumption – the next decision-maker to be heard from in the school funding drama will be state District Judge John Dietz of Austin, the presiding judge in the school finance lawsuit brought against the state by more than 600 districts.

Dietz ruled in February that the state wasn’t spending enough money for schools to do their jobs successfully and wasn’t appropriating money among districts in a fair and equitable way. But he delayed issuing a formal, written decision until after the Legislature had another chance to address funding and other educational issues.

During the regular session, which ended on Memorial Day, lawmakers also reduced the end-of-course (EOC) exams for high school students under the STAAR regime from 15 to five, partly in response to school district complaints in the lawsuit but also to parental outrage over too much testing.

Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick predicted the extra money and testing reductions could affect Dietz’s final ruling. “I believe the judge needs to revisit the issue,” Patrick was quoted in The Dallas Morning News over the weekend.

But I doubt that the judge will be overly impressed by the Legislature’s work product. Remember, he estimated in February that it may take an extra $2,000 per child – or another $10 billion or $11 billion a year in state funding – to meet all state standards. And, the Legislature didn’t come close to meeting that figure. Moreover, more than 60 percent of public school students are low-income, with many requiring more funding for remedial programs.

As Dietz remarked back then,” There is no free lunch.”

Once Dietz issues his final ruling, the state will appeal to the Texas Supreme Court, many of whose members view the world – and state government’s responsibility – quite differently from the trial judge.

# # # # # # # #

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an item about SB346, which had been approved by both the House and the Senate, to require certain nonprofit groups that actively engage in political advocacy to publicly report their donors to the Texas Ethics Commission. It would have helped teachers, parents and others who value public schools to learn more about who is paying for political efforts to undermine public education.

I say “would have helped” because, in case you haven’t heard by now, Gov. Perry vetoed the bill. He said it would have had a “chilling effect” on the democratic political process.

In truth, it would have enhanced the democratic process. It would have forced the public disclosure of wealthy ideologues who finance bullying tactics against legislators, often to the detriment of most mainstream Texans. The veto wasn’t much of a surprise, but it was wrong, nevertheless.

Voucher supporters don’t get it


The members of the State Board of Education who dissented late last week when the board voted, 10-5, for a resolution urging the Legislature to reject private school vouchers, including tax-credit “scholarships,” were among the board’s more conservative members. But another conservative, first-termer Marty Rowley, a Republican from Amarillo, pointed out that there was nothing particularly liberal – or conservative — about wanting to save education tax dollars for public schools. Reserving tax money for public education is simply being fair to the vast majority of school children and is the correct thing to do.

“I am a limited-government conservative, and because of that it concerns me when I see taxpayer dollars going to the private sector,” he said, voting for the resolution.

Perhaps Rowley should sit down and have a chat with Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick, who also professes to be a limited-government conservative but is a driving force behind the school privatization scheme.

Patrick’s Senate Bill 23, which would allow businesses to get tax credits for donating money for private school scholarships, may be debated by the full Senate this week. Whatever Patrick may call it, the bill would create a private school voucher program because the tax credits would take money away from public education for the benefit of private school operators.

A majority of the State Board of Education – five Democrats and five Republicans—now joins a bipartisan majority of the Texas House in going on record against spending public money on private schools. The House voted 103-43 earlier this month to put that prohibition into its version of the new state budget.

But Patrick and some of his Senate colleagues remain undeterred.

And at least one member of the State Board of Education who supports vouchers seems utterly confused.

Geraldine “Tincy” Miller of Dallas said she voted against the resolution because, “I believe in the American right to educate my children in the manner that I want.”

OK. But what does that have to do with vouchers?

If parents want to send their children to private school and can afford to do so, fine. But don’t take tax dollars away from public schools and undermine the education of most Texas school children.



There is real opportunity in public schools, not vouchers


It still takes two to tango in the Legislature. That is, both the House and the Senate have to approve a new law, and the House recorded a very strong 103-43 vote last week against spending tax dollars on private school vouchers. But Dan Patrick, the pro-school privatization champion who doubles as Senate Education Chairman, is still peddling the bad idea. He may not even have enough votes to get a voucher bill through the Senate, but his rhetoric has escalated into double-overdrive.

Double-overdrive? Yes, in Patrick’s case, there is such a thing.

The Senate Education Committee yesterday heard Patrick’s SB23, which would divert tax dollars from public to private schools through “tax credit scholarships,” another name for vouchers, and Sen. Donna Campbell’s SB1575, which would give a small number of families state aid to help pay tuition at private schools. The committee didn’t take any action on either bill, not yet, anyway.

Patrick characterized voucher opponents, such as TSTA, as “barriers of people who are against opportunity and competition.” Again, he is flat wrong.

For one thing, if religious and other private schools want to compete with public schools, they already can do so. But they have no business dipping into the public till to enrich their bottom line, and the Legislature has no business allowing that to happen.

And, what about opportunity? All privatization schemes to the contrary, the vast majority of Texas children will continue to be educated in traditional public schools, and that includes most of the low-income children for whom Patrick purports to offer hope. Public schools, not vouchers, are their opportunity for a successful future.

Instead of giving these children rhetoric, Patrick should start giving them the right kind of votes. Just two years ago, he undermined the most realistic educational opportunity most of these children will ever have when he joined his colleagues in the legislative majority to slash $5.4 billion from public school budgets.

At the very least, he now should put his privatization schemes aside and join the real education experts – teachers and others in the public school community – in demanding that the Legislature restore the full amount of the cuts, not just the partial amounts already approved by the House and the Senate.

If Patrick really wants to improve opportunities for school children, he should start talking about tapping the Rainy Day Fund, not creating vouchers or tax credits. The Rainy Day Fund has enough money to complete the job of making our real opportunity providers – the public schools – whole again.



Education-by-lottery is, indeed, a bad idea


As Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick continues to wring his hands over the plight of children on charter school waiting lists, the Austin American-Statesman reported a couple of interesting facts about charters today.

Citing the Sunset Review Commission, the newspaper noted that charter schools account for 71 percent of schools facing sanctions for failing to meet academic or financial standards. And, almost 18 percent of charter schools were considered “unacceptable” in 2011, almost four times the rate of traditional public schools.

Those figures make me wonder something. How many of those 100,000 Texas students who Patrick claims are on charter school waiting lists are refugees from bad charter schools? I bet more than a couple of dozen.

Fortunately – so far, anyway — not everyone on the Senate Education Committee likes Patrick’s SB2, which would essentially give the charter industry – with its bad apples and good apples alike – carte blanche to expand.

According to the article, Harmony Public Schools, the state’s largest charter operator, claims a waiting list so large that students selected are determined by lottery, which Patrick thinks is a shame.

“A parent and a student who believe they are in a failing school should not be relegated to having their name pulled out of a bingo-type or lottery mechanism where names pop into a little cup,” Patrick said. “That is no way to run an education system.”

Amen, Mr. Chairman. That is exactly the point against your approach to improving educational opportunities. No child should have to depend on the luck of a lottery – or being cherry picked — to get a chance at a quality education. But that is a fact of life for charters and will remain so, with or without SB2.

All these privatization schemes to the contrary – most charters are run by private operators – the vast majority of Texas children will continue to be educated in public schools. And, before charter schools are expanded, the Legislature at the very minimum needs to restore the $5.4 billion in public education budget cuts that Patrick voted for two years ago.

Tomorrow, the Senate will consider a budget proposal that would restore only $1.5 billion, about one-fourth of what was cut. That is not enough. It is a disservice to the school children of Texas to refuse to repair all the damage to their public schools, especially when $12 billion of taxpayer money is sitting in the Rainy Day Fund. That is more than enough money to restore all the public education cuts without adding a dime to anyone’s taxes.

Chairman Patrick needs to really help out the school children, all the school children, not simply expand the education-by-lottery business.