Rick Perry

Education, not ideology, drives business


Even when Texas was leading the nation in job creation while Rick Perry was governor, the political hype about the so-called “Texas miracle” was overblown, particularly since Texas also led the nation in the percentage of residents without health insurance and poverty was high. Living in Texas was anything but a miraculous experience for millions of people, but with low regulations and low taxes, many businesses loved to set up shop and expand here.

Millions of Texans still remain uninsured, partly because Perry and Gov. Greg Abbott both refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. And under Abbott, even the bloom has faded from the “Texas miracle” rose. Texas has dropped to 39th among the states in job growth, the gross state product has flattend out and its unemployment rate is higher than the national average for the first time in a long time, as Richard Parker writes in an oped, linked below, for The Dallas Morning News.

California, meanwhile, a state that Abbott often ridicules as too “liberal” and “anti-business,” has lower unemployment.

Parker blames much of the problem on the fact that Abbott and others who have taken over the Texas Republican Party are more interested in promoting “dogma” than economic development. (I would call it right-wing ideology.) This is why Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick forced a more-than-willing Abbott to call the Legislature into the current special session to pass a bill to regulate bathroom use by transgender individuals. Abbott and Patrick also will try to override the wishes of local voters by forcing more micro-management on cities, where, Parker notes, real economic growth is created.

Much of the business community strongly opposes the bathroom bill because it is a piece of discriminatory trash that will drive businesses, multimillion-dollar sports events and other economic development opportunities away from Texas.

Regulatory and tax policy help determine where businesses move and expand. But, as Parker points out, so do other factors, including availability of capital, quality of life, public infrastructure and, of course, education. State support of public schools has deteriorated under both Perry and Abbott to the point that Texas spends $2,500 less per student than the national average and $6,300 less than the national average in teacher pay.

As an afterthought to the bathroom bill and other ideological priorities, Abbott has added school finance and teacher pay to the special session’s agenda. But it remains to be seen how committed he is to either issue, since so far he hasn’t proposed any additional state funding.

Parker suggests that Abbott and his fellow ideologues aren’t talking “about economic growth because they don’t know anything about it – except maybe how to stand in its way.”

That is a pretty good description, at least, of their stance toward public schools.


Want to save public education? Prepare to fight


You may have seen the YouTube video loop making the rounds of Rick Perry, in a pink vest, mouth wide open, arms pumping, putting the goober in goober-natorial. The video from one of Perry’s appearances on Dancing with the Stars may be an appropriate depiction – it’s energetic — of the next Secretary of Energy.

Had his flirtation with dancing stardom lasted much longer, Perry could have generated enough wind power on his own to launch a small sailboat, maybe, or at least ruffle his new boss’ hair.

Seeking a tiny ray of hope on the eve of what will be a very challenging political year for educators (any many other people), we could be grateful that President-elect Trump chose Perry for Energy and not the Department of Education. As governor, Perry promoted the biggest cut in public education funding in Texas history.

But then we remember who Trump did choose for Education, the billionaire, right-wing privateer Betsy DeVos.

Perry once vowed to eliminate the Department of Education, as well as the Departments of Energy and Commerce, although he had trouble remembering all three. But while Perry wanted to destroy the federal education bureaucracy, DeVos seems more intent on destroying public education, period, and in Texas she will be aided and abetted by the likes of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and, maybe to a lesser degree, Gov. Greg Abbott.

The next round to save public education in Texas as we know it will begin Jan. 10, when the Legislature convenes in Austin, followed very quickly by the Trump and DeVos takeover in Washington.

Rest up over the holidays and recharge your energy level. You are going to need it in the New Year, but not for dancing. For fighting.



Texas: A state of emergencies


Texas has a long legacy of emergencies, real emergencies, many created by a state government that seemingly doesn’t know how to operate in any other mode. That’s why we have had a steady stream of school finance lawsuits, that’s why some communities are scrambling to find future sources of water and that’s why our part-time Legislature was still meeting in August.

Lawmakers adjourned their third and — I guess — final special session of the summer last night after completing work on an “emergency” transportation funding proposal that, if voters approve, could take as much as $1.2 billion a year from the state’s savings account, the Rainy Day Fund.

The proposal has no immediate, direct impact on public school funding, but a prolonged dedication of Rainy Day money to highways could have a long-term detrimental effect on funding for schools and other critical state needs during future budget emergencies. That is an issue that voters will have to weigh before deciding how to vote on the “emergency” highway funding plan.

I keep saying, “Emergency.” Well, Texas does have an emergency, urgent need to unclog roads and highways that are becoming more overcrowded almost every day. But the funding plan approved by the Legislature won’t even come close to covering the $4 billion-plus in additional funds that the Texas Department of Transportation says it needs every year to simply keep traffic congestion from growing. And, the funding proposal wasn’t exactly put on an emergency, fast track to voters. It will remain in limbo for another 15 months until voters finally get their say in the November 2014 election.

Although it may take voters in some urban areas almost that long to drive to their polling places, the real reason for the delay is that lawmakers are asking us to weigh in on another emergency first – a $2 billion investment in a water development fund that will be on the ballot this November. Legislators were reluctant to put both emergencies on the ballot at the same time for fear that voters would rise up against one or both of them. One emergency at a time, please.

The basic problem with highway funding, public school funding and other financial emergencies that will become more frequent is an outdated, inadequate state tax structure – full of special interest loopholes – that the state leadership refuses to address.

Part of the problem is a growing crop of legislative Tea Partiers, who would rather dunk their heads in the nearest kettle than deal with reality. A larger obstructionist is Gov. Rick Perry, who for too many years has preached tax “relief” while largely neglecting public education and waving at our state’s growing transportation needs with toll roads and credit cards.

One of these days, Texas is going to face one emergency too many, and that day may be approaching more rapidly than anyone would like to think.



Rick Perry’s report card


Now that Rick Perry has ended the governor-for-life speculation, this is a good time to start filling in the “Fs” on his education report card. He will be in office for another 18 months, but let us hope – fingers crossed – that most of the damage to public schools already has been done.

This account is far from complete, but here are some low points of Perry’s education record:

# A school finance overhaul in 2006 that provided fleeting property tax “relief” while permanently digging a multibillion-dollar hole in the public education budget.

# An erosion of financial support for public schools and teachers. In 2003-04, according to the earliest data I could readily obtain from the National Education Association, per-pupil spending in Texas was $1,094 less than the national average, and average teacher pay in Texas lagged $6,259 behind the national average. That was about halfway through Perry’s first elective term in the governor’s office. By the just completed 2012-13 school year, Texas’ per-pupil spending had fallen to $3,055 behind the national average, and its average teacher pay lagged $8,273 behind.

# A big chunk of the Texas erosion occurred in 2011, when Perry insisted upon and signed a budget that slashed $5.4 billion from public education. The Legislature restored about $4 billion of that this year, but spending is still lower than what it was three years ago. And, at Perry’s insistence, legislators left several billion dollars sitting untouched in the Rainy Day Fund.

# The 2011 budget cuts cost the jobs of 25,000 school employees, including 11,000 teachers, and crammed thousands of students into overcrowded classrooms.

# High-stakes standardized testing became more dominant and time-consuming under Perry, until parental outrage prompted the Legislature to start cutting back this year.

# Funding for higher education also has suffered under this governor. And, because of a tuition deregulation law that he signed, tuition has soared, while student financial aid has been cut back.

Perry doubtlessly will continue to try to claim job creation as a key part of his legacy. But it takes more than low taxes, lax regulations and government handouts to friendly corporations to create permanent, well-paying jobs and maintain a strong economy.

Tomorrow’s jobs require a strong public education system today, and Texas public schools can’t afford any more of Perry.