Greg Abbott

Abbott strikes another blow against public education


Since he announced his candidacy for governor, Attorney General Greg Abbott has had very little, if anything, to say about the value of public schools and the educators who teach our children. Instead, he continues to pander to the dreams of ideologues who wax nostalgic for the days of horse-drawn buggies, armed face offs outside the saloon and one-room school houses.

The likely Republican nominee’s latest strike against public education is, according to the Associated Press, a proposal to ban school districts from hiring lobbyists to represent them before the Legislature. He said not a word, of course, about the army of lobbyists demanding that the Legislature take large amounts of tax dollars from public schools for private school vouchers or corporate-style charters.

The truth is that school districts are not wasting large amounts of tax dollars on lobbying. Abbott simply is pandering to those Texans who are convinced that public schools are awash in cash, when, in fact, most school districts are still struggling from the $5.4 billion the legislative majority cut from public education two years ago.

Meanwhile, teachers, school administrators and school board members are an invaluable source of information for legislators. Unlike many self-styled education “reformers” who haven’t seen the inside of a classroom in years, teachers and other school officials are on the front lines of education every day. They know what the real needs of students are, and legislators and governors should make them their primary source of education information.

Abbott’s latest blow, though, is simply more of the same. He also continues to defend a school finance system that a judge already has declared unconstitutional because it is inadequate and treats students in property poor districts unfairly. And, a couple of weeks ago, Abbott unveiled a so-called “budget plan” that would make school funding even worse instead of making it a priority.

However, the attorney general is quick on the draw when it comes to other “priorities,” such as passing a law to make it legal to openly carry handguns in public. That priority may make him a perfect candidate for a role on a Gunsmoke remake or sheriff of Tombstone, Ariz., but it does not address the changing needs of 21st century Texas.

An eroding educational foundation


In another indication of how badly state government is preparing for the future, a new study shows that Texas ranks in the bottom third of the states in the percentage of needy children who attend preschool. Two-thirds of low-income children in our state did not attend a preschool program from 2009-11, according to the latest “Kids Count” report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

This finding, as reported in The Dallas Morning News, hardly comes as a surprise, given the prevailing, short-sighted political climate in Austin. But the study nevertheless is significant for a number of reasons:

# The basic problem is this. Thousands of children attending Texas public schools are poor, and many don’t speak English very well, but they are a reality. They represent Texas’ future, and preschool programs offer most of them the best opportunity to learn how to learn in a classroom. How well they do in preschool can go a long way toward determining how well they will do in later grades — and beyond. When preschool isn’t there for them, their climb from poverty becomes more difficult, and Texas’ prospects for an adequately trained workforce in the very near future diminish.

# Yet, the most outspoken elements of the state’s business community remained largely silent while Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative majority slashed $5.4 billion from public school budgets two years ago. The cuts included a $210 million grant that would have helped school districts expand pre-kindergarten to full day programs. The Legislature restored about 80 percent of the cut education funding this year but, except for $30 million, didn’t restore the pre-K money.

# The legislative majority also ignored a state district judge’s ruling that the entire school funding system is unconstitutional because it is inadequate and unfair to poor districts. Meanwhile, public school enrollment in Texas continues to grow by 80,000 to 85,000 children a year, including thousands – perhaps a majority – of low-income kids who have never had an opportunity to be in a preschool program.

# Now, along comes Greg Abbott, the Republican heir-apparent to Gov. Perry, making his first alleged policy address. How would he prepare Texas for the future? By cutting, cutting — and cutting some more.

Abbott and legislators who are fascinated with and/or terrified of the right wing ideology that dominates Republican primaries – and ransacks public schools — need to quit gulping tea long enough to listen to people who actually do care about children, education and their roles in the Texas of tomorrow.

“It is imperative that our kids get a strong early start that helps counteract the effects of poverty and our failure to sufficiently invest in our kids,” Frances Deviney of the Center for Public Policy Priorities told The Dallas Morning News.

She is correct, but Abbott and the statehouse majority aren’t listening.


What does “education reform” mean to Greg Abbott?


When Attorney General Greg Abbott launched his campaign for the Republican nomination for governor, he went around the state promising to usher in a “new era of education reform.”

Uh-oh. If Abbott’s definition of “education reform” is the same as most of the Republican leadership in this state, it will mean more support for unproven privatization schemes and corporate takeover of local neighborhood schools. That means spending state tax dollars on school vouchers and cookie-cutter, corporate charters, while slashing tax dollars from already under-funded, traditional public schools, where the vast majority of Texas children will continue to be educated.

Right now, we can only guess – although I think the above is a pretty educated guess – because Abbott so far hasn’t spelled out what he means. He has spoken against “teaching to the test” – which the Legislature already dealt with this year — and said Texas needs to prepare more children for college or careers and make college more affordable.

But mostly the “education reform” remark has been a footnote in a campaign stump speech heavy on red-meat, right-wing rhetoric that bashes Obamacare and the federal government, promotes religious ideology and suggests that failure to promote Abbott to governor could mean the imminent collapse of the U.S. Constitution.

I checked Abbott’s campaign website today, and if there was anything on it fleshing out his education priorities, I couldn’t find it. But I did find the 10 issues that he singles out, and not one has anything to do with improving the public education system.

The first is ending Obamacare, which would ensure Texas of remaining the national leader in residents without health care. The second is protecting the Second Amendment, which doesn’t need protecting, unlike school children in harm’s way from an over-supply of guns in the wrong hands. And, the third is defense of “traditional values,” like displaying the Ten Commandments on the state Capitol grounds.

Also on the list is Abbott’s defense of the voter ID law, a thinly veiled political attempt to disenfranchise minority and elderly voters who are not likely to support the attorney general’s gubernatorial bid.

But I guess we will have to wait a little longer for that “education reform” platform to be spelled out.




CSCOPE may get new life


A Senate education chairman – even a self-styled educational “evangelist” – can’t singlehandedly repeal a state program, not with all the bullying and bluster he can command.

I am talking, of course, about Sen. Dan Patrick, who a few months ago unilaterally declared the CSCOPE curriculum system dead, following complaints from a vocal minority of conspiracy-theorists who viewed the program as an anti-American, socialist plot to brainwash Texas students. Patrick thought he had successfully killed the program after he had bullied the system’s governing board to agree to remove all lesson plans by Aug. 31.

Now, it turns out, Patrick was wrong – again – because the lesson plans are now in the public domain and free to be picked up by any school district that wishes to use them. That was the assessment of the Texas Education Agency’s top lawyer, David Anderson, who told the State Board of Education that there is “no statute” that would prohibit districts from continuing to use CSCOPE lesson plans.

In other words, Chairman Patrick neglected to get a new law passed by a majority of the House and the Senate – basic legislative details.

CSCOPE, developed by regional educational service centers, is not an evil conspiracy. It was designed to help school districts prepare lesson plans for teaching state educational requirements. Many large school districts have their own curriculum directors and don’t need it. Typically, using CSCOPE lessons is not mandatory, but it has been an important tool in the educational tool box for some teachers, especially in hundreds of small districts that can’t afford to hire personnel to develop their own plans.

Many of those small districts have been scrambling for help since Patrick declared the program dead. Now, they may get a break in preparing for the new school year.

The final word, however, on the controversy may not have been issued. Attorney General Greg Abbott also has been a strong critic of CSCOPE. And, now that he is actively courting right-wing votes in his newly launched race for governor, don’t be surprised if he tries to find a way to re-bury the program.