Dan Patrick

Charter proposal avoids the real issue


If Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick thinks school districts have too many unused buildings – and apparently he does – he should look in the mirror. Some new buildings, particularly in fast-growth districts are empty because school districts couldn’t afford to staff and open them after Patrick and his colleagues in the legislative majority cut $5.4 billion from public school budgets two years ago.

In his new leadership position – and with $20 billion in surplus and Rainy Day money for lawmakers to work with – Patrick should be leading the charge to get the funding restored. But, no, he is talking about diverting even more money from public schools to a private school voucher program. And, with SB2, he would lift the cap on charter schools and require school districts to turn over unused buildings to private charter operators for an annual “rent” of $1.

Patrick would take public school buildings, constructed with local tax dollars approved by local voters, and give them to private companies operating charter schools with little or no local oversight.

Several charter school operators and other advocates, of course, testified for SB2 before the Senate Education Committee today. I watched part of the hearing and was struck by how one charter advocate missed the point when he suggested more charters could help Texas address the school dropout problem.

But dropouts aren’t lining up for charter schools. The relevant issue is preventing kids from dropping out in the first place. And, the best way to address that problem is for the state to focus its resources on traditional public schools, which is where the vast majority of children – both those who drop out and those who graduate — attend school. And, remember, the budget cuts for which Patrick voted included full-day, pre-kindergarten and other programs designed specifically to discourage kids from dropping out.

Various studies have shown that charters, on average, are no better or worse than traditional public schools. Some have been successful in Texas, but others have failed miserably – academically, financially or from poor management. This is not the time for the Legislature to give the charter industry a blank check on creating new charters while traditional public schools are still struggling from budget cuts.




Vouchers don’t promote civil rights


To no one’s surprise, state Sen. Dan Patrick is getting carried away with his own rhetoric over the private school voucher issue, which will be the top priority for Patrick and others seeking to weaken the public schools during next year’s legislative session.

“It is the civil rights issue of our time,” he told the Texas delegation to the Republican National Convention, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Civil rights? This is coming from Dan Patrick, a champion of the anti-civil rights Voter ID bill, which a federal court struck down yesterday because it would weaken the voting rights of minority and other low-income Texans.

No, thank you, Texas doesn’t need any more “help” with civil rights from Dan Patrick.

Every child in Texas has a right to an adequate and equitable public education, which Patrick and other supports of private school vouchers would erode by siphoning away tax dollars for a handful of students and private school operators. Vouchers, like voter ID, are an “anti-civil rights issue.”

Patrick also declared, “Don’t let the (teacher) unions tell you we’re going to rob it (voucher money) away from public education.”

But that is exactly what the Texas State Teachers Association will continue to tell everyone, because that is exactly what voucher advocates intend to do.

Patrick and other voucher supporters, including Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, already have shown they are eager to strip needed resources from the public schools. They slashed $5.4 billion from public education last year, over the strong objections of parents and educators. Parents and educators understand what is needed in our schools, and they, along with teacher groups, actually do value public education and work to improve the lives of public school students every day.

Patrick claims that vouchers would help students with disabilities and autism. But if he were so concerned about their welfare, why did he vote last year to cut their public school budgets and billions of dollars more from health care programs, while leaving billions of dollars unspent in the Rainy Day Fund?

No amount of profiteering schemes will change this fact. The overwhelming majority of Texas’ 5 million school children will continue to be educated in traditional public schools. Most will not have a realistic alternative or a choice, even under a voucher program. Instead, a voucher program would undermine their basic educational rights while providing a taxpayer subsidy to private school owners.

In his speech to GOP delegates, Patrick also denounced “non-needy” Texans who, he said, are benefiting from social welfare programs.

“Get off your butt!…Don’t expect us (taxpayers) to pick up the tab for your lifestyle,” he said.

He doesn’t mind, of course, if taxpayers pick up the tab for non-needy private school operators. That is hypocrisy, folks. It is not what a sound public education system and civil rights are all about.