Rick Perry

How to make it tougher for jobless teachers


Sometimes, it is an abuse of the word to refer to Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst as “leaders,” but call them what you will, they are at it again. With a long list of real-life, major concerns, including public school funding, in serious need of state attention, Perry and Dewhurst are off in political La-La Land, imagining another problem that doesn’t exist.

I am referring to their endorsement yesterday of the “kick-‘em-while-they’re-down” proposal to require Texans who lose their jobs to undergo drug testing before receiving unemployment benefits. It was bad enough that Perry and Dewhurst championed the budget-cutting that resulted in the loss of 25,000 school jobs last year. Now, they want to humiliate teachers and other people seeking a little help while they look for work.

Unemployment compensation is not welfare, folks. To be eligible, you have to have a satisfactory work record and be actively looking for a new job. The vast majority of people seeking temporary jobless benefits have earned their unemployment compensation through hard work. They are not drug-abusers, as Perry and Dewhurst suggest.

The idea of making life even tougher for struggling Texans seems particularly insensitive, coming as it is from a multi-millionaire (Dewhurst) and a double-dipping governor who is paid more than $240,000 a year, including salary and retirement benefits, and lives rent-free  in a state-owned mansion.

But both men, it seems, would rather continue to pander to supporters who view government as a  profit center for the well-heeled – private school vouchers, lucrative testing contracts, etc. – while weakening the public safety net for everyone else.


Another school budget-cutter tries to fool voters


“Lie” is such a harsh word. So, let’s use “fabrication” to describe State Rep. Dee Margo’s very wordy attempt to deny the fact that he voted last year to cut $5.4 billion from public education. Those cuts included $76 million, according to Texas Education Agency estimates, from El Paso County school districts in House District 78, where Margo is trying to convince voters to reelect him.

In an effort to claim he is a “friend” of public schools when, indeed, he isn’t, Margo sunk some campaign cash in a multi-page flyer, complete with charts and citations, that purports to explain the education funding problem. In truth, the handout is a piece of self-serving drivel that omits the real problem with school funding and ignores Margo’s role in worsening it.

Although you won’t find any mention of this in Margo’s flyer, Gov. Rick Perry started digging the deep financial hole for school districts in 2006, when he convinced the legislative majority to order deep cuts in local school property taxes without providing for enough state revenue to cover the districts’ losses. The property tax savings soon vanished, and schools have been struggling with funding ever since because the uneven swap created a permanent, $5 billion annual shortfall in the public education budget. But the scheme gave Perry what he wanted – bragging rights to “tax cuts” in a reelection year.

Margo, a loyal soldier in Perry’s anti-education army, blames the funding problem, instead, on the 2009 legislative session, when then-State Rep. Joe Moody represented El Paso in District 78. That year, the Legislature covered the school budget shortfall by spending several billion dollars in one-time-only federal stimulus money. That was the only option, since Perry and the legislative leadership were adamant against raising state taxes. Gov. Perry, who attacks President Obama at every opportunity, was, nevertheless, more than happy to let the President help him balance the state budget.

But once the federal stimulus money was gone, Perry continued his attack on the public schools. Margo, who unseated Moody in 2010, helped Perry dig the schools’ budgetary hole even deeper in 2011 by voting to slash $5.4 billion from school funding. Even without federal help, Margo and the legislative majority had about $6 billion in the Rainy Day Fund, more than enough to avoid the school budget cuts. But Margo and the other Perry allies left that money sitting in the bank, while they watched 25,000 school employees lose their jobs and thousands of children get crammed into overcrowded classrooms. More than 150 teaching positions have been lost in El Paso alone, according to the Texas Education Agency.

Yet, in his fictitious flyer, Margo criticizes Moody for taking an “easy short-term solution” to school funding and claims his own budget-cutting somehow amounted to “putting education funding on solid ground.”  I doubt that even Margo himself believes that, although he hopes El Paso voters do. Every school district in El Paso County, meanwhile, has joined a lawsuit claiming the state’s school finance system is inadequate and inequitable.

The truth is Moody helped avert a disaster for the public schools in 2009, while Margo deliberately voted in 2011 to lay off thousands of teachers and put public education in the worst financial shape it has been in many years. Margo voted for the worst public education budget of his lifetime. It cut per pupil funding by more than $500 and didn’t even pay for enrollment growth.

Margo is guided by an ideology that wants to dismantle the public schools in favor of privatization. Moody, who is trying to win the District 78 seat back, is a strong supporter of public education and is guided by a desire to create a solid learning environment in the public schools for Texas’ next generation.

TSTA’s advice for District 78 voters: Throw Margo’s worthless flyer in the trash or recycling bin and vote for Moody.


Vouchers don’t promote civil rights


To no one’s surprise, state Sen. Dan Patrick is getting carried away with his own rhetoric over the private school voucher issue, which will be the top priority for Patrick and others seeking to weaken the public schools during next year’s legislative session.

“It is the civil rights issue of our time,” he told the Texas delegation to the Republican National Convention, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Civil rights? This is coming from Dan Patrick, a champion of the anti-civil rights Voter ID bill, which a federal court struck down yesterday because it would weaken the voting rights of minority and other low-income Texans.

No, thank you, Texas doesn’t need any more “help” with civil rights from Dan Patrick.

Every child in Texas has a right to an adequate and equitable public education, which Patrick and other supports of private school vouchers would erode by siphoning away tax dollars for a handful of students and private school operators. Vouchers, like voter ID, are an “anti-civil rights issue.”

Patrick also declared, “Don’t let the (teacher) unions tell you we’re going to rob it (voucher money) away from public education.”

But that is exactly what the Texas State Teachers Association will continue to tell everyone, because that is exactly what voucher advocates intend to do.

Patrick and other voucher supporters, including Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, already have shown they are eager to strip needed resources from the public schools. They slashed $5.4 billion from public education last year, over the strong objections of parents and educators. Parents and educators understand what is needed in our schools, and they, along with teacher groups, actually do value public education and work to improve the lives of public school students every day.

Patrick claims that vouchers would help students with disabilities and autism. But if he were so concerned about their welfare, why did he vote last year to cut their public school budgets and billions of dollars more from health care programs, while leaving billions of dollars unspent in the Rainy Day Fund?

No amount of profiteering schemes will change this fact. The overwhelming majority of Texas’ 5 million school children will continue to be educated in traditional public schools. Most will not have a realistic alternative or a choice, even under a voucher program. Instead, a voucher program would undermine their basic educational rights while providing a taxpayer subsidy to private school owners.

In his speech to GOP delegates, Patrick also denounced “non-needy” Texans who, he said, are benefiting from social welfare programs.

“Get off your butt!…Don’t expect us (taxpayers) to pick up the tab for your lifestyle,” he said.

He doesn’t mind, of course, if taxpayers pick up the tab for non-needy private school operators. That is hypocrisy, folks. It is not what a sound public education system and civil rights are all about.