Leticia Van de Putte

Senate education chair ignores education


Someone needs to tell Dan Patrick, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, that something important happened last week in Austin. A judge ordered the Legislature to do its job and adequately pay for the public schools.

If you’re not sure where to find Patrick, go down to the Mexican border, where you may find him waving a big Texas flag, preaching “border security” and annoying the heck out of local law-enforcement officials. Be careful not to get shot by any self-anointed “citizens’ militia” vigilantes, who are even more annoying and dangerous than Patrick.

But Patrick is bad enough.

Even after Judge John Dietz had carefully and forcefully pointed out that the constitutional rights of 5 million school children to a public education – and the state’s own economic future — were in serious jeopardy because of the Legislature’s failure, the Senate education chair remained totally out to lunch on education.

Ignoring education entirely, Patrick instead spent the holiday weekend sending emails trying to raise money for his lieutenant governor’s race by fanning the flames on immigration. “Border security is the top issue for all of us,” he declared, falsely conjuring of images of a criminal tide that only he could stop.

The truth is, folks, that the vast majority of immigrants are simply seeking a better life for their families and that immigration and significant demographic changes in Texas will continue, despite all the Dan Patricks who refuse to accept reality. Equally true is the fact that an effective immigration policy will not come from Patrick or any other state official. It will come only from the federal government, if and when Republicans in Congress also decide to accept reality.

Bashing immigration, though, is a lot easier for Patrick than actually trying to lead policymakers in drafting a plan for adequately and fairly funding public education. His main “interest,” if you want to call it that, in public education has been to cut school budgets, saddle kids with high-stress standardized tests and siphon school tax dollars for unproven privatization schemes.

Maybe we should just leave him down on the border — or behind his radio microphone or computer or wherever he hides from voters. Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, meanwhile, actually is prepared to give educators and students the resources they need for success.



Fighting the testing plague


Sen. Leticia Van de Putte renewed the war on the testing plague yesterday. She vowed to significantly cut back on standardized testing in the public schools and give students more time to actually experience the joy of learning, rather than the dread of bubbling the wrong bubble.

That goal alone (plus the fact that she is fighting to save Texas from Dan Patrick) is enough of a reason, although there are many more, to vote for Van de Putte for lieutenant governor this November.  So, you teachers who are sick of teaching to the test and you parents who are sick of your children being sick of testing, applaud Leticia – and then vote – because testing advocates don’t want to release their stranglehold on Texas classrooms.

Even as Van de Putte and gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis are fighting against excessive testing, the Texas Education Agency is getting ready to launch in about 70 school districts this fall a teacher evaluation system that will be partly based on test scores. State Education Commissioner Michael Williams agreed to the program as a condition for getting a U.S. Department of Education waiver from some provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act.

School districts had to agree to participate because the education commissioner has no authority under state law to force districts to base teacher evaluations on test scores. Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, one of the state’s largest school districts, declined the commissioner’s offer to take part.

The election of Van de Putte and Davis could go a long way toward heading off legislative approval of such an evaluation scheme because Williams is likely to try to get the Legislature to endorse a similar plan.

Much research in recent years has discredited using standardized test scores – or so-called value-added measures (VAM) – to evaluate teachers. The process gives an incomplete and unfair picture of a teacher’s performance, researchers have concluded, although so-called education “reformers,” including the Obama administration, persist in trying to ram it down our throats.

If these misnamed “reformers” get their way, testing will become even more stressful – for both teachers and students – and further erode the time that children need for real learning. That threat makes Van de Putte’s stand even more welcome.



Patrick’s record on education speaks for itself


Not too many years ago, Dan Patrick was simply a publicity stunt. Now, he could become the next lieutenant governor of Texas, in a prime position to wreak havoc on public schools and a host of other important public services. The mainstream media has all but inaugurated him to the state’s No. 2 office, assuming that people who purport to care about Texas’ future will vote nevertheless in November for the “inevitable” because he has an R behind his name.

Patrick won the Republican nomination by appealing to Texas’ right-wing political fringe, largely at the expense of the state’s emerging majority population.  He likened the growth of the Hispanic population, including immigration from Mexico, as an “illegal invasion” that must be stopped by sealing off the border. And, he accused immigrants of bringing leprosy and other “third-world diseases” into the United States.

The rhetoric – which, for all we know, Patrick truly believes – worked because people who know better, the traditional Republicans who have turned their primary over to flat-earth ideologues, stayed home or held their noses.

No sooner, though, had Patrick won a low-turnout runoff – he won the votes of only 3.5 percent of registered Texas voters — than he already was trying to backpedal on his anti-Hispanic remarks in an effort to appear more “moderate” for a wider general election audience. Because of Republicans like Patrick, Hispanics have traditionally voted overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates, and Patrick’s Democratic opponent, Leticia Van de Putte, is Hispanic. Both are state senators.

It is unknown how heavy the Hispanic voting turnout will be in November because that voting bloc has not yet lived up to its potential, but it could be crucial not only to Van de Putte’s chances but also to the election prospects of gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis and other Democratic candidates. That is why Patrick and other Republicans enacted the photo identification law as a potential barrier to discourage many Hispanics from going to the polls, and this is the first general election in which it will be in play.

Texans who care about the future of public education have a lot at stake in the November election because the differences between Patrick and Republican gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott, on one hand, and Van de Putte and Davis, on the other, are crystal clear.

Three years ago, Patrick voted for the $5.4 billion in school budget cuts that hurt all the state’s school districts and struck particularly hard at property poor districts with large numbers of low-income, primarily Hispanic, students. And, he has been a long-time champion of diverting tax dollars from these schools — and the vast majority of Texas children — to corporate-run charters or to private schools in the form of tax-paid vouchers, which would benefit only a select few Texas students.

Abbott continues to defend the school budget cuts and the rest of the state’s inadequate, unfair school funding system. He also is an advocate of selective educational opportunities, including a pre-kindergarten proposal that could require 4-year-olds to take standardized tests.

Davis and Van de Putte fought against the budget cuts and, last year, led the fight in the Senate to restore much of the funding. They also are strong advocates for improving educational opportunities for all Texas kids.

While he was trying to reverse course on his anti-Hispanic rhetoric this week, Patrick was quoted in The Texas Tribune, “Before you can get someone’s vote, you have to respect them enough to go talk with them and explain who you are.”

I think his Republican primary campaign and record as a state senator have been explanation enough.