Watch out! Another “education reform” group is hatched


They are calling themselves CREEED, another meaningless acronym for another ambiguous title in what I suspect is another entry into the misnamed “education reform” movement. This one, the Council for Regional Economic Expansion and Educational Development, has recently popped up in El Paso, and, as far as educators and school kids are concerned, it already seems headed in the wrong direction.

Is the primary goal of this group really to help educators and students or to add more lining to the pockets of profiteers who view public education as a cash cow?

I ask that question because organizers already are talking about school “choice” – usually a euphemism for private school vouchers — more private schools and more charters, alternatives promoted by a number of other groups seeking to transfer tax dollars from neighborhood schools to unproven privatization schemes.

So, there is ample reason for parents and educators in El Paso who truly value their public schools to be suspicious of the new group, which apparently plans to get involved in local school board races and may try to influence state education policy as well.

CREEED is chaired by Richard Castro, a McDonald’s franchise owner, who told the El Paso Times that the group has three broad goals: “closing gaps in educational achievement, providing a quality education for all children and creating a ‘cradle to grave’ strategy for future workers.”

Those are laudable goals. And, in addition to the privatization schemes mentioned above, the group says it is interested in promoting programs in the public schools such as early college high schools, dual language instruction and dual credit classes. Spokesmen also say they will work with teachers and administrators.

But no one among the group’s leaders discussed (at least with the El Paso Times) a very critical element in public school success — a state school funding plan that is adequate and fair. Many other so-called “reform” groups also neglect that basic factor as they contrive ways to divert thinly stretched public education dollars from neighborhood schools into their privatization experiments.

One of the first El Paso officials to endorse the new group was Dee Margo, the state-appointed president of El Paso ISD’s board of managers. As a state representative in 2011, he voted with the legislative majority in slashing $5.4 billion from public school budgets, a whammy that cost EPISD more than $500 per student and caused EPISD to ask for a class size waiver for every K-4 classroom.

And, one of the prominent CREEED board members is El Paso businessman Woody Hunt, a major political contributor to Margo and to Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican nominee for governor – the man who continues defending the 2011 funding cuts in court. Hunt also has given at least $100,000 to Texans for Education Reform, a statewide school privatization group.

CREEED’s leaders believe the quality of public education in El Paso schools is inadequate, but they have said nothing about inadequate state funding that has plagued El Paso schools for decades. And, remember, the cheating scandal that rocked El Paso ISD a few years ago and wiped out educational opportunities for who knows how many low-income children wasn’t driven by a lack of vouchers or a shortage of charter schools. It was driven by a high-stress testing culture and a former superintendent’s desire to profit financially from it.

Is CREEED the right acronym for this group? Or, would GREED be more fitting?

Time will tell.


Education privateers posing as “reformers”


In the continuing legislative debate over education policy, “reform” continues to be the most abused and deliberately misused word in the political jargon. Reform is not simply change, folks. Reform is change for the better, and many of the educator meddlers hijacking the word are not trying to make our public schools better. They are trying instead to squeeze personal profits from public schools at the expense of taxpayers and school children.

One of the latest such groups to emerge this session is Texans for Education Reform, which has as much interest in truly reforming education as Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR) has had in truly reforming our judicial system – and that would be none. The fact that the two names are similar is no coincidence.

Some of the key business players in Texans for Lawsuit Reform are now involved in Texans for Education Reform. To protect the business interests and enhance the personal fortunes of its members, Texans for Lawsuit Reform has succeeded in winning state laws and court decisions all but shutting courthouse doors to Texas consumers. Average Texans seriously injured on the job, maimed by a careless surgeon or defrauded by a crooked business owner now have a much more difficult – sometimes impossible – task winning compensation through the state’s judicial system. That’s because Texans for Lawsuit Reform has spread millions of dollars in campaign contributions among Gov. Rick Perry, legislators and judges and has flooded the Capitol with lobbyists.

Now, some of these same players – under the guise of Texans for Education Reform – are at the Capitol. But are they advocating for more education funding, smaller classrooms, better teacher pay and other basics that actually would improve the learning environment? No.

Lawsuit-turned-education “reformers” such as Richard Trabulsi and Leo Linbeck are now pushing school privatization schemes. These include an expansion of charter schools and expanding online learning to private vendors, which would give their privateering colleagues more opportunities to rake in tax dollars as charter school operators, online “educational” gurus or whatever. Texans for Education Reform supposedly is not involved in the push for private school vouchers, but Linbeck has advocated for vouchers in the past.

This is not the time to expand charters, mainly because traditional public schools – which are where the vast majority of students are educated – are still struggling from the budget cuts of two years ago, and the funding still hasn’t been completely restored. What’s more, the state can’t even effectively regulate the charter schools it already has, including weeding out bad charters that never should have been granted in the first place. Online learning can be an important educational tool, but it can’t replace classroom teachers, many of whom lost their jobs because of the budget cuts.

TLR founder Richard Weekley is on the Texans for Education Reform board. The board president is former Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro. Her main legacy as an education “reformer,” in case you don’t recall, was heaping an increasing number of standardized tests – including STAAR – on Texas school children and teachers.

Texans for Lawsuit Reform has done a pretty effective job of shutting down courthouses in Texas. Let us not give Texans for Education Reform an opportunity to take the first steps toward doing the same thing to public schools.