Dan Patrick

Public schools don’t have waiting lists


The Rev. Sen. Dan Patrick, self-styled education “evangelist,” has said variously that either 100,000 Texas students, families or parents are on waiting lists for charter schools. The Austin American-Statesman’s fact-checkers at PolitiFact Texas rated the claim as “mostly true.”

We still don’t know for sure, though, because state regulators don’t keep those figures. Instead, they came from the Texas Charter Schools Association, which surveyed its members, and is a strong supporter of Patrick’s SB2 to lift the state’s cap on charters. As PolitiFact Texas pointed out, federal law prohibits the association from collecting students’ names and addresses. So, we don’t know if numbers were inflated or how many would-be charter enrollees were duplicated, showing up on more than one school’s waiting list.

A much more critical figure, in any event, is 5 million. That is the number of students enrolled in Texas’ public schools. And, there is absolutely no debate over how long the public schools’ waiting lists are. There aren’t any because, unlike charters, most public schools don’t cherry pick. They take all comers in their districts, regardless of academic or behavioral record, family income, special needs or ability to speak English.

Public schools don’t keep waiting lists. They just keep moving in more portable classrooms. And, public schools are where the vast majority of Texas children will continue to be educated, including the low-income children that Sen. Patrick professes to want to help the most.

Those low-income children – who account for more than half of all public school students in Texas – also took the brunt of the $5.4 billion in school budget cuts that Patrick voted for two years ago. As Senate Education Chairman, Patrick needs to rearrange his priorities and lead a campaign to restore the funding cuts to public schools before he tries to expand the number of charters or siphon away more public education money for private school vouchers, which he also has made a priority.



Preachy on education – and wrong


Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick is preachy, as TSTA President Rita Haecker pointed out in an Associated Press story this morning. He also is demagogic, as one of his Senate colleagues suggested in the same story. And, he is an expert at grandstanding.

But when it comes to improving educational opportunities for low-income children, he is wrong, flat wrong.

“You do become a little bit of an education evangelist because you know this works and you know we must do all we can to make sure every student has an opportunity,” Patrick is quoted in the same story, promoting his proposals to expand charter schools and create tax credits for private school vouchers.

Every student? What Patrick is proposing would be limited to a small number of children, while taking tax dollars from the vast majority of students. Moreover, private school vouchers and charters DON’T WORK any better than traditional public schools in boosting educational opportunities for that vast majority. Research has borne that out. And, that includes Florida, which former Gov. Jeb Bush was still touting as something of an education miracle in an invited appearance last week before Patrick’s committee.

State-commissioned studies have found no evidence that low-income students who receive vouchers to attend private schools do any better at reading or math than kids in Florida’s public schools. Bush also expanded charter schools in Florida while he was governor. But the state’s high school graduation rate remains mediocre, and large numbers of graduates still need remedial help in math and reading.

Tax resources have been drained from traditional public schools in Florida, and now Patrick wants to continue doing the same thing to Texas schools. Instead, he should be leading an effort – which he is not – to restore the $5.4 billion he voted to cut from public schools two years ago.

Those cuts – an average $1,062 per student over the past two years – have done a lot of damage to educational opportunities for the low-income children for whom Patrick claims to advocate. They have been forced to study in overcrowded classrooms. They have lost teachers, teaching assistants and pre-kindergarten and other dropout prevention programs. Now, he wants to take even more of their public support away to enrich education profiteers.

Education evangelist? Texas school kids need a statesman who really knows what works for them.


Spare the tears and restore the school cuts


Listening to Sen. Dan Patrick lament the plight of poverty stricken children in Texas’ public schools almost made me want to pull out a violin and provide some appropriate teary-eyed accompaniment. But there were a few problems with that.

One, I didn’t have a violin. Two, I don’t know how to play one, anyway. And, three, violin music in a Senate Finance Committee meeting probably would have violated Senate rules.

Patrick was pleading with other committee members to include a contingent appropriation of $2 million to create a new regulatory panel for charter schools if he is able to win passage of his SB2, which would lift the cap on charters. The committee postponed action on the request, but not before Patrick went into rhetoric overdrive.

“It’s about the poor children in this state who have no hope for quality education,” he said, referring to his charter proposal.

Now, I submit that if Sen. Patrick really were concerned about providing a quality education for low-income children, he wouldn’t have voted with his colleagues in the legislative majority two years ago to slash $5.4 billion from public schools. The cuts included pre-kindergarten and other dropout prevention programs, which are particularly critical for disadvantaged children. Another result was thousands of low-income children being forced into overcrowded classrooms, losing some of the invaluable individual attention they need from their teachers. Other children lost reading specialists, and the list goes on.

Now, Patrick wants to attack the problem by expanding charters, an iffy proposition for students and Texas taxpayers, but an excellent financial opportunity for private operators of charter schools.

“Sometimes, we have to do the right thing,” Patrick declared.

Right on, but if only the senator recognized what the “right thing” is. The “right thing” for the senator and his colleagues to do now is restore the $5.4 billion they cut from public school students – rich, poor and middle class alike – two years ago and quit trying to experiment with unproven privatization schemes. On average, the cuts have cost each child about $1,062 in lost educational support over the past two years.

Patrick joined other members of the Senate Finance Committee in voting to restore $1.5 billion. That is a step in the right direction, but they need to restore the remainder. And, they have enough money to do so without raising anyone’s taxes.


Jeb Bush: peddling school privatization


Leading off the dog and pony show before the Senate Education Committee this morning, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush suggested that poverty was just an “excuse” for failures in the public schools. Bush, of course, doesn’t exactly have a clear comprehension of poverty, but it is not an excuse for tens of thousands of Texas schoolchildren. It is a reality, and it does interfere with a child’s education. When families are struggling to survive, the first priority usually isn’t a kid’s homework or, for many families, even keeping a kid in school.

More than half of the children in Texas public schools are “economically disadvantaged.” That means they are poor. And many of them are still struggling to learn English. Yet, Bush’s answer to their educational needs is to keep cramming standardized tests down their throats, take tax dollars away from their neighborhood public schools and give the public money to private school owners in the form of student vouchers or scholarships.

That was Bush’s approach in Florida while he was governor, and now he is traveling around the country claiming it worked. In reality, it may have produced some immediate improvements, but over the long haul it hasn’t turned around Florida’s educational system. The state’s high school graduation rate is nothing to brag about, large numbers of graduates still need remedial help in math and reading, and state- commissioned studies have found no evidence that low-income students who receive vouchers to attend private school do any better at reading or math than Florida kids in public schools.

And, there are other problems. If you want to read more, click on the link at the end of this post for a good news article about the illusion-versus-reality of Bush’s education legacy.

Bush, indeed, may want to improve public education. But he is not the successful education “reformer” he claims to be. Instead, he is a promoter of school privatization. His misnamed Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) and its affiliate, Chiefs for Change, are conduits for letting their corporate donors – a who’s who of education profiteers – connect with and privately influence state policymakers on expanded testing, expanded online learning, private school vouchers and other privatization raids on public tax dollars.

The foundation has had some success – tapping into untold millions of education tax dollars — in several other states, and now it is trying to promote privatization efforts in Texas.

Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick was all too willing to feature Bush as a star witness to promote Patrick’s voucher and charter expansion goals. Instead of wasting time on such unproven schemes, though, Patrick and his colleagues in the legislative majority should be restoring the $5.4 billion they cut from public school funding two years ago. Because of those cuts, per-student spending in Texas has plunged by $1,062 since the 2010-11 school year, according to National Education Association rankings.

Texas now is 49th – near the bottom of the barrel – in per-student spending among the states and the District of Columbia. Only Arizona and Nevada spend less. Thousands of Texas students have been forced into overcrowded classrooms, dimming their learning opportunities. And, many of those students are poverty-stricken.

Bush said “reforms,” such as accountability testing, need to be imposed on public schools to assure that students can become upwardly mobile, become financially more secure than their parents.

Public schools were making students upwardly mobile long before the privateers came along. But millions of Texans, and not just poor people, have seen their family incomes become frozen or recede in recent years, and that is not the fault of the public schools. That is the fault of federal regulatory and economic policies that have favored the wealthiest 1 percent of the country’s residents, while squeezing the middle class and everyone else. Jeb should have given the upwardly mobile lecture to his brother, George W., while W. was still in the White House.