Jason Isaac

Putting school vouchers in backpacks


Unbelievable as it may seem, some readers of this blog occasionally take exception to my reasoned rhetoric – and to my view that we should give our public schools the resources they need to do their job instead of siphoning away our tax dollars for unproven school privatization schemes.

Many of these people call themselves education “reformers,” when, in fact, they are not trying to reform – or improve — public schools but, instead, are trying to capitalize on them. Folks, profit-making for a select few is not the purpose of our public education system.

A spokesman for Texas Families First (TFF), one of these education privatization groups, has taken exception to my previous blog posting, in which I outlined the many problems with HB300 by Rep. Jason Isaac of Dripping Springs. I also noted the absurdity of Isaac claiming to be a champion of education after voting to slash $5.4 billion from public school budgets two years ago and now trying to continue the demolition.

Isaac filed HB300, the so-called “Independent School District Bill,” on behalf of TFF, which wants to give parents more control over school choices for their children, even to the point of allowing school districts to ignore important, statewide education standards – including class size limits and teacher qualifications — and allowing parents to turn their schools – and tax dollars — over to for-profit, outside operators.

I doubt there was anything TFF liked about the previous blog posting, but the group’s spokesman objected specifically to my writing that HB300 includes a voucher of “last resort” provision. He said the bill doesn’t include such a provision and asked for a correction.

I have subsequently reviewed the 62-page bill and haven’t found any specific reference to the word, “voucher.”

But the bill would allow for “backpack funding.” That means state funds for school districts participating in the program would go with the students.  It parents were to turn over the management of their local school to a for-profit operator – and nothing I could find in the bill would prohibit that – the “backpack” money would amount to a taxpayer-paid voucher. And, that would be a transfer of public money to private hands.

Call it what you wish. It is not education reform. It is school privatization.


Trying to ram public education into reverse


“Unfunded mandate” is a trite expression that sometimes is used by local school officials to complain about having to do something that would actually be in the best interests of their students and teachers, such as limited class sizes for K-4 and due process rights for employees. The complaint is that the Legislature – which can be a champion at buck-passing — ordered them to do something without paying for it.

Some mandates, of course, do not have a positive educational effect. Putting the standardized testing regime on steroids with the STAAR program has proved to be a very bad idea, and legislative leaders already are taking steps to curtail it. But now along comes State Rep. Jason Isaac of Dripping Springs, who wants to set public education back a half century or more by scrapping just about every state education requirement, the good as well as the bad.

You could say that Isaac is trying to finish what he helped to start two years ago when he voted for the $5.4 billion in school funding cuts. During his 2012 reelection campaign, he denied his anti-education vote, although his local school officials – and anyone else with a passing knowledge of arithmetic — knew better. But he’s back in Austin, nevertheless. So, watch out!

Isaac has filed HB300, which would allow school districts to ignore almost all state regulations and set their own policies for curriculum, class size, student testing, teacher compensation, hiring and firing and the academic calendar. Districts also could set their own accountability standards, and, if they fail to meet them, parents could turn their schools over to private, for-profit operators. The bill also includes a voucher “of last resort.”

In other words, the bill would create the potential for a mess. Some districts could enact high educational standards, while others, particularly in property poor areas, would drastically cut back on standards, raise class sizes, lower teacher pay and eliminate fairness from employment standards. Some state regulations – most notably the STAAR test – need to be changed, but most are there to guarantee sound educational practices for all Texas students and fairness in employment and pay for teachers.

According to a story, linked below, in the Texas Tribune, Isaac’s bill is backed by Texas Families First, a pro-voucher and privatization group that would put the vast majority of Texas students last.

“Educators consistently tell me that unfunded mandates are one of the biggest hindrances to delivering effective education to our children,” Isaacs said.

Except for STAAR, most of the mandates are fine. A far better solution is for Isaacs and his education-cutting colleagues in the Legislature to pay for them. And, they can begin by restoring the $5.4 billion – some $1,062 per child – they cut from schools two years ago, instead of toying around with unproven privatization experiments that would undermine public education.


School cuts breed hypocrisy


So far, I have been reluctant to use the word, “lie,” during this political season, but the misleading and fabricated reelection rhetoric of the Legislature’s education-cutters is getting out of hand. So, let’s be polite, but clear. State Rep. Jason Isaac of Dripping Springs is not telling the truth, and he isn’t the only one.

In a recent flyer, Isaac claims to have voted to increase the state’s share of education funding by $2 billion. He did nothing of the kind. Isaac can tie his tongue in knots trying to explain how he came up with that figure, but in truth he voted for Texas’ worst public education budget in more than 60 years, the first during that period that failed to account for enrollment growth.

With statewide enrollment increasing by 80,000 to 85,000 students each year, Isaac voted to cut $4 billion from the state’s commitment to public schools plus another $1.4 billion in grants for key programs, such as pre-kindergarten and dropout prevention. That’s a total CUT of $5.4 billion over the past two school years, or a reduction of more than $500 a year for each of Texas’ school children.

School districts in House District 45, which Isaac purports to represent, lost about $23 million of the total, according to Texas Education Agency estimates. And, Isaac voted for the cuts while leaving $6 billion of taxpayer money unspent in the Rainy Day Fund. He chose to obey Texas’ ideologue-in-chief, Gov. Rick Perry, a proponent of school privatization schemes, rather than represent the best interests of his constituents.

In his piece of campaign fiction, Isaac says he will work to ensure more money is spent in the classroom and will “reward good teachers with higher pay.” He also brags about voting last year against teacher unions so school districts could keep “their best and brightest teachers regardless of seniority.”

In truth, Isaac’s vote cost thousands of Texas’ best and brightest teachers their jobs. Almost 11,000 teachers were among the 25,000 school employees who lost jobs during the 2011-2012 school year alone. Thousands of students were crammed into overcrowded classrooms because Isaac and his fellow Perry allies voted to spend less, not more, money in the classroom. And, average teacher pay decreased for the first time in years.

Educators, parents and everyone else in House District 45 in Central Texas would be a lot better off voting for challenger John Adams, a former Dripping Springs school board member who knows that good local schools need more from the Legislature than hollow campaign rhetoric. The Texas State Teachers Association is backing Adams.

Here are some other education-cutters who also are seeking reelection but refuse to be truthful with voters. I have written about them before, but here is a rehash of Hypocrites’ Row:

# State Rep. Dee Margo, District 78, El Paso – In a fabricated argument similar to Isaac’s, he claims to have put “education funding on solid ground.” In truth, he also voted to cut $5.4 billion from the public schools. His opponent, Joe Moody, who is supported by TSTA, is a proven education advocate who will work to repair the damage.

# State Rep. Sarah Davis, District 134, Houston – She campaigns for “excellence in education” but voted to undermine the public schools with a $5.4 billion cut. Vote for Ann Johnson, her TSTA-endorsed opponent.

# State Rep. Stefani  Carter, District 102, Dallas – She portrays herself as a champion of education and claims to have voted against a school-budget cutting bill. But, in truth, she also voted for the $5.4 billion cut. TSTA is supporting her opponent, Rich Hancock.

# State Rep. Connie Scott, District 34, Corpus Christi – She claims to be “committed to improving public education.” Then why did she vote for the $5.4 billion education cut? Abel Herrero, her TSTA-endorsed opponent, is a far-better choice for voters.

# State Rep. John Garza, District 117, San Antonio – He defends his vote for deep cuts in school funding by claiming the Legislature didn’t have enough money to avoid them. The truth is he and his colleagues in the majority left $6 billion unspent in the Rainy Day Fund, more than enough money to avoid the attack on public education. Garza brags about being tight-fisted. TSTA is supporting his challenger, Philip Cortez, because Cortez brags about the importance of public schools and will advocate for them.

Other education-cutters are out there, I am sure, also trying to dodge their votes as they campaign for reelection.  If only their commitment to public schools was as strong as their ability to spin yarns.